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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | June 3, 2020

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You Can't Stop the Music: QSO Online Performances

You Can’t Stop the Music: QSO Online Performances
Claire Matthews

Even COVID-19 can’t stop the Queensland Symphony Orchestra from making music, so tune in to their socials for QSO online performances by artists in their homes.

QSO has had to become more creative in their music-making, redefining how their music is performed and shared.

The Creative Issue spoke to QSO Chief Executive, Craig Whitehead, about how the orchestra is adapting and coping without live concerts.

The Creative Issue: What sparked your QSO online performances?

Craig Whitehead: As an orchestra for everyone, we are devastated at the moment to not be able to present any of our concerts. We were really excited about the season we had rolling out, not only our mainstay season at QPAC Concert Hall, but also our regional touring initiatives, education and community outreach programs.

Understandably, when the government decided to ban events, firstly 500 people, and then any events, we were really thinking, well, how do we get the orchestra out? Music is even more important at this time. How do we keep our extraordinarily talented musicians creating content and creating music, which is what they do best.

So, the Over the Fence came from our musicians, as did a lot of our content that’s going out at the moment. We had one of our musicians, Alison Mitchell, Principal Flute, who came back from Japan and was in 14-day lockdown. So Warwick Adeny, our concertmaster, decided he wanted to cheer her up, and the best way to cheer up a musician is for them to perform. So, he came up with the idea for them to play over a fence with some social distancing. We said, what a wonderful idea, let’s put it online for our audience. It went incredibly well, and was picked up by a range of different platforms from there.

TCI: Do you have a planned program for QSO online performances?

CW: Yes, but it’s ever-changing, because of increased restrictions. We did a concert on the weekend without an audience, so that will be shared in the coming weeks. We’ve made more Over the Fence videos, so they’ll come out on Fridays over the next few weeks. We also have small ensemble programs that will be coming out soon. With the increased restrictions, it’s the creativity of the musicians in filming themselves at home which will be the feature of our content going forward. We’re already starting to see some wonderful things.

For example, our Section Principal bass trombone, who is tech-savvy, did a multitrack where he recorded himself playing a piece with four different trombones. There’s a whole lot of content that’s going to be rolled out. One of our musicians has a particular interest in social media, so she’s working with the rest of the orchestra around blog posts, to get inside the musicians while they’re isolated, talking about their house, even their favourite pet, things like that.

TCI: What impact has COVID-19 had on QSO so far?

CW: Well, all our box office revenue has suddenly stopped. It will have an impact on sponsorship revenue. The extraordinary generosity of the community and donors is continuing, but they’re going to be severely impacted as well, whether it be through loss of income or loss of employment. So we’re concerned about them, and the impact it has on them will also impact on us. Depending on how long this goes, it could be an impact on the QSO of millions of dollars from a revenue perspective.

TCI: How can the community support your musicians?

CW: What’s been fantastic is we’ve been refunding our cancelled concerts and offering our audience the opportunity to donate the face value of their tickets to the company. We’re really humbled by the number of people who are taking up that option and supporting the company through this period of time. That’s one tangible way the community can continue to support us.

One other way is we’ve had donors bring forward their donation, rather than waiting until the end of the financial year, which is terrific. We’re really hopeful that we will be able to get some of the job-keeper funding that the government announced earlier this week. That would be an absolute boom for the organisation and allow us to continue to support our employees during this time.

TCI: How can Brisbane’s music industry stay afloat during this time?

CW: Look, my real concern is for the casual musicians. That’s one of the key things that we are hoping to get the job-keeping funding from the government for. We spend hundreds of thousands a year in supporting casuals with employment. We are unable to do that at the moment, so a job-keeper subsidy would allow us to provide financial support to the casual production staff and technicians that we hire every year. So that’s my concern, how they will survive this downturn, with forced cancellation, or forced unemployment, during this time.

I think that the music sector in Queensland is incredibly strong. Brisbane’s a music town. It’s got a world-class symphony orchestra, a wonderful opera company, the best youth orchestra in the country, as well as two outstanding institutions, the Griffith Conservatorium of Music and the UQ School of Music. It comes from a real investment by the government in arts education, and particularly music education in schools. I’m confident that the music sector will come through this strongly. We just need to hang tough in here. If the government support enables us to support those casual musicians who are part of our economy, then I think we will be able to come out of this very strong.

TCI: During this crisis, what does a typical day as QSO Chief Executive look like?

CW: I think I’ve become an expert in the coronavirus at the moment. I’m trying to get an an understanding of how long it’s going to go on. I’m keeping tabs on the economic stimulus, working with our CFO on economic modelling, and what packages might look like for us. That’s one key element and then I’m talking to staff.

I’m working my way through the orchestra and company, having a conversation with each of them personally. I’ve got over 150 people. So, I’m trying to keep in contact with them, ensure their mental health is strong, provide as much certainty of employment as I can during this period, and reduce their anxiety. I’m talking to donors for their ongoing support.

I’m working with the marketing department on the upcoming concerts, and how they can be displayed on our social media platforms. It’s kinda a different day, but it’s not less full, and it seems to be full of Zoom meetings.

TCI: What are your next steps forward for QSO online performances?

CW: For us, it’s about preparing for this. The challenge really is, how long is this going to last? It’s difficult to plan beyond this pandemic if you don’t know when it’s going to end. So we’ve got scenario planning around the next three to six months, and what happens if the cancellations of concerts takes us through to the end of the year. We need to have a rolling scenario of what concerts do we have coming up and what do we need to cancel. We need to communicate with our international artists, and decide what happens if we’re able to do concerts, but our artists aren’t able to travel. So it’s thinking about how do we manage this period of cancelled concerts but also planning ahead for how we emerge from this.

What I can say is, from talking to the musicians, the buzz in the concert hall and the buzz on the stage when they perform live to an audience again for the very first time, will be absolutely electric. So, how do we make that return concert an extraordinary celebration, and a thank you to our supporters.

So, yes, all those things are very much at the front of our minds. How do we get through the period of lockdown, but also how do we emerge from this, and how do we celebrate the emergence of the QSO.

More QSO online performances to come, so stay tuned.

Read about the QSO-solation Playlist here.

If you are a musician who is struggling with COVID-19, or a music-lover with the means to donate, please visit the sites below.

Support Act
I Lost My Gig
Sound of Silence

Videos Supplied.