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COVID & the Arts: QCSO Succeeds Despite Pandemic

QCSO - the new normal

The past few weeks have been busy and unprecedented for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, thanks to Covid-19.

Executive Director Brian Baxter says the Quad City Bank & Trust Riverfront Pops on September 12th went extremely well, given that rain threatened that day, and they wrestled with a new seating arrangement in LeClaire Park.

Credit QCSO
QCSO Executive Director Brian Baxter

“It was an unbelievable undertaking. It was a tremendous effort on the part of our staff and our volunteers. The amount of work it took to make the safety precautions a reality was a lot. Then on top of making sure it’s safe in the Covid pandemic environment, the threat of rain was the worst I’ve seen for this event. We had some of our space limited, by delays in the city construction. There were a lot of obstacles, but we overcame them and we had a successful, safe show. The musicians did a great job; artistically, it was very good. It was a powerful event for us.”

In the park bandshell, there were 27 orchestra musicians (playing in mask under the baton of assistant conductor Ernesto Estigarribia), backing the Fleetwood Mac tribute band, separated by a Plexiglas barrier. Baxter says 2,000 people turned out for the concert, and each group had its own assigned plot – varying in size for two, six or 10 people. They also filled 105 of the permanent seats, socially distanced. Baxter says “it was by the grace of God” that rain did not cancel the event.

“It was harrowing. We were trudging through the day before in this horrifying weather, to paint the park. It was very dramatic. For this whole thing, we really needed a documentary crew following us. It was like an epic story.”

Credit QCSO
QCSO Concermaster Naha Greenholtz

On Sept. 19, the QCSO held a virtual Signature Soiree fundraiser, including an auction and Maestro Mark Russell Smith. The “Moonlight”-themed music featured concertmaster Naha Greenholtz, principal cellist Hannah Holman and pianist Ghadeer Abaido. And the event raised $43,000 for the QCSO.

Earlier this month, there were socially distanced concerts at the Adler Theatre – the longtime QCSO home, which welcomed the public back for its first event since “Dancing With the Stars” in early March. Baxter says there were 250 people on Saturday night and 150 for Sunday.

For the first time, the orchestra is providing digital access online to its Masterworks concerts for 30 days after each one (until Nov. 2 for the first one) for $40 per household.

“If you think about if you’re a couple and don’t want to go to the symphony, and switch to digital access, it is cheaper certainly, than two tickets.”

The Adler can seat up to 25-percent of its capacity, or over 600, and they had to be separated. Patrons, the 40-person orchestra (distanced on stage), and music director Mark Russell Smith all wore masks. It will be the same set-up through December for Masterworks. 

“The audience, people I spoke to were tremendously appreciative of the opportunity to enjoy music safely. We had 100% compliance with the mask requirement. We had announcements about it, reminders when people walked in, reminders to stay distanced from other groups. So it’s a pretty darn safe environment, especially when you’ve got everybody masked. That’s our top priority.”

The program earlier this month was about 70 minutes, which is the approximate length for the next Masterworks, Nov. 7 and 8. That will feature a piece by Bela Bartok and the Beethoven Violin Concerto, showcasing Greenholtz.

“We’ve never had to think this hard about every little, itty-bitty aspect of the concert experience, both for the patrons and the musicians. So it’s a lot of work and it’s taken since May – we’ve had this coronavirus task force really assessing all the risks."

“There are precautions we can put in place to make the working environment safe for the musicians, and the experience safe for the patrons. There’s been a lot of feedback that’s gone into this.”

The first Masterworks should be re-broadcast on WVIK on Sunday, Oct. 18. For tickets and more information, contact the symphony at 563-322-7276 or www.qcso.org.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.
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