Boston Symphony Orchestra cancels in-person performances through 2020

July 30, 2020 at 3:10 pm

By Sean Piccoli

Boston Symphony Orchestra with music director Andris Nelsons conducting in September at Boston’s Symphony Hall. (Photo by Winslow Townson.)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is canceling the entire first half of its upcoming season but is holding off on announcing a decision for the rest of the 2020-2021 schedule. 

The cancellations — 14 programs encompassing 37 concerts at Symphony Hall from mid-September through late November — came after BSO trustees consulted with medical experts and reviewed state and federal guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, the orchestra said in a statement on Thursday. 

The fate of concerts set for January-May will be announced before the end of 2020, the orchestra said.

BSO joins a long list of concert organizations across the country that — after cutting short their 2019-2020 seasons — have erased parts or all of their 2020-2021 calendars, citing the capacity of the coronavirus to spread from person to person in enclosed indoor spaces such as concert halls. 

The orchestra’s president and CEO, Mark Volpe, called the shutdown a “heartbreaking” development for the orchestra and its supporters “while the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course.” 

A fall season of BSO streaming performances will be offered in place of in-person concerts, with details to be announced, the orchestra said.

The cancellation of an entire fall slate is the first in BSO’s 139 years, the orchestra said on Thursday. The global pandemic made its first dent in the BSO schedule in January when the orchestra opted out of a winter tour to China and three other East Asian countries. The orchestra dropped the remainder of its 2019-2020 season in late March and launched a streaming series, BSO At Home

The mix of new and archival Web concerts has continued into summer with BSO’s Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, which features new performances, many from artists who were scheduled to appear at Tanglewood before live audiences. 

“I hope this online offering, along with the one we are creating for our dear BSO fans this fall, will help support and bring light to our community during a time of loss,” the orchestra’s music director, Andris Nelsons, said in a statement.

The orchestra confirmed that two additional BSO-sponsored concerts scheduled for November are canceled: Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and Boston Symphony Chamber Players at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.

Symphony Hall, owned by BSO, will also be closed through 2020 to the venue’s other regular tenants. The Celebrity Series announced on Friday that it will present streaming concerts only for the rest of the year. The Handel and Haydn Society is postponing its fall-winter 2020 lineup at Symphony Hall until further notice, the society announced on Thursday. Decisions are pending by the Boston Pops and the Boston Speakers series on future events originally planned for Symphony Hall, the orchestra said.

A return to live concerts with in-person audiences as early as 2021 will depend on advice from medical experts, the orchestra said. In the meantime, BSO is evaluating what changes Symphony Hall will need in its cleaning procedures, air quality, spacing of seats and other safety precautions before it can reopen, the orchestra said.

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