Mission Accomplished!

Driving our decision making process is always the art – always the belief that live music, shared with an audience in a concert hall is the ultimate manifestation of the meaning of music. In the case of my approach to programming, and its focus on finding meaning throughout a season in the form of connections, it was important to the orchestra that we kept our season intact.

Our subscription concerts were not the only OW events that needed to be postponed. In July, we were finally able to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, alongside members from over 50 community music groups in our “Beethoven Birthday Bash”. An orchestra and choir of 400 was assembled to perform a truncated version of the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and the first movement of his 5th Symphony! Another postponed concert was our annual Symphony in the Hutt – a free pops concert given in the Hutt Valley, just north of Wellington.

Apart from the focus on completing the season, the pandemic demanded creative and lateral thinking. I have already spoken of Orchestra Wellington’s Amalia and Friends series –  a set of six performances and three programmes focused on the city-named symphonies of Mozart, alongside some of his violin concertos. Played for socially distanced audiences, these concerts were made possible by government wage subsides paid out due to a cancelled opera season. Thanks to the idea of General Manager Kirsten Mason, I was able to formulate a season that met the strict budgetary constraints of the subsidies.

Likewise, the orchestra was able to present two performances of Terry Riley’s “In C” at the Wellington City Art Gallery.

Orchestra Wellington was not the only arts organisation that was thinking laterally, and our wonderful friends, the Cuba Dupa Street Festival proposed that the orchestra present chamber concerts in restaurants up and down Cuba Street. This wonderful initiative, which is going to become an annual event, brings music to new audiences, and supports the hospitality industry, while adding to the vibrancy of the Cuba Street area. The initiative resulted in 100 live performances over two days!

Leaving hire engagements such as ballet and opera performances, the orchestra performed in excess of 130 live performances during the pandemic! Ironically, 2020 will go down as the busiest season that Orchestra Wellington has ever presented!

But the unique nature of the completion of our season, and the sheer number of performances is only part of the story. Orchestra Wellington’s subscription concerts had an average attendance of more than 2000 over each of our subscription season performances. This is a statistic that remains unmatched in New Zealand, and is made all the more extraordinary when one considers the population of the greater Wellington region.  

Finishing with Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and John Psathas’s magnificent “View from Olympus” was a suitably triumphant close to the season – there was a palpable sense of relief, accomplishment, and most importantly, thankfulness to be able to share great music in front of a live audience in a great hall. Certainly this performance (and the entire season) appears to have added to the sense of excitement of our upcoming 2021 Season – “Virtuoso”

The arts matter, but the performing arts hold a special place in the community, due to the nature of live performance. What this pandemic has shown very clearly is that there is a thirst for live performance, and the inspiration and fellowship that is always a part of performing arts has great meaning to the public.