A horse of a different color! Our new BPOnDemand season explained

By Patrick O’Herron, BPO marketing director

If you’ve been tuning in to our BPOnDemand video-streamed performance series, you’ll notice that things are just a littttttle bit different around here! This article is intended to help answer some of your questions about changes you’ve noticed this 2020-21 concert season.

Hey, where’d everybody go?

The first thing you’ve probably noticed is that there are far less people on stage. The BPO employs 73 full-time musicians, and thanks to your incredible support, we have been able to keep all of our musicians employed during these difficult times. While rehearsing for and recording our BPOnDemand concerts, we are adhering to strict social distancing guidelines, which means that there must be at least 6 feet between all musicians, except those that produce aerosol (the winds), which have a wider 12-foot berth surrounding them. This means that only so many musicians can fit on the stage at one time. Just as they would in a regular concert, all of our principal string players keep the same seats, but the section strings rotate, sometimes in and out of performances depending on the instrumentation that each work calls for. This helps to ensure that all of our musicians have an opportunity to perform.

Standing alone 

Maintaining social distancing means that our string players, who are accustomed to sharing music stands, now each have their own individual stand. While this may sound like a privilege, it comes with its challenges. During a regular concert, you’ll notice that the musician in the innermost seat (the player to the left in the first and second violins, and the player to the right in the violas, cellos and basses) is assigned to turn the page when the work calls for it. The musicians in the outermost seats continue playing so that the sound is never disrupted. With each individual musician now receiving his/her own stand, we’ve had to get clever regarding page turns. Some of our musicians use Bluetooth page turners like these for hands-free page turning. (What’ll they think of next!)

If it ain’t Baroque…

Our reduced capacity for musicians onstage means that repertoire changes have been necessary. Toward the latter part of the 19th century, the orchestra grew to the large size we are accustomed to seeing today, with upwards of 70 to 100 or even more musicians on stage. But during the Baroque era in the 1600s and early 1700s, the orchestras were much smaller, topping out at 20 to 30 musicians, mostly strings and keyboard. You’ll see a lot of Baroque repertoire programmed this season for that reason, as adhering to social distancing means we can only fit a limited number of musicians on the Kleinhans stage. It’s an exciting time for the BPO, as we would not normally have the opportunity to play so much repertoire from these Baroque masters. The reduced number of musicians means that you can really hear each individual player and the unique musical conversations that happen within and between sections.

Not the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’

Another thing you’ll probably notice is that all musicians that can do so – our strings and percussionists – are wearing masks while they play. Even our conductors are wearing masks! Masks can be incredibly challenging, because even though these musicians don’t need to produce air to play their instruments, breathing is still an incredibly important part of making music. Proper breathing technique helps a musician to maintain good form while they play, and breathing helps a musician to shape a musical line. As we all know, masks can make breathing challenging under normal circumstances, but wearing masks is an essential safety precaution for our musicians, and indeed everyone, to help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Play it, don’t spray it!

Since our wind players can’t wear masks while they play, in addition to wider spacing, sheets of plexiglass have been added to the stage to help separate them. These plexiglass shields are intended to help to prevent the spread of the aerosol that their instruments produce.

Party in the back

In addition to all of the precautions taken onstage, backstage safety is equally paramount during these times. Under normal circumstances, fitting 73 (or more!) musicians and all of our guest artists, staff, technical crew, security, and volunteers backstage is no easy feat. Space is incredibly tight. For our BPOnDemand rehearsals and performances, our tireless operations team has developed a backstage safety plan that includes extra spaces devoted to the musicians’ warm-up and the storage of their cases and equipment, regular testing and temperature checks, increased hand sanitizing stations, and a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting schedule for Kleinhans Music Hall prior to and following each rehearsal and performance, on top of many other safety measures.

Wish you were here!

While we cannot welcome audiences in Kleinhans at this time, plans are in development for the BPO to host intimate, socially distanced audiences as soon as state guidelines allow. A new socially-distanced seating chart giving at least a 6-foot berth around pairs of seats would reduce Kleinhans’ 2,400 seats to little more than 500 per performance, but increased performance instances would help to offset the reduced capacity. These plans remain on hold until New York Forward reopening guidelines for large indoor concert venues are made available and will be announced at a later time.

Things may be a little bit different this season, but our mission to present beautiful symphonic music for the Western New York region and beyond never changes. We are so grateful to you, our cherished patrons, for your unwavering support.

Click here to view our upcoming BPOnDemand performance schedule. These performances are FREE to 2020-21 season subscribers, who can register by calling the Box Office at (716) 885-5000. Individual tickets are available for just $10 for those patrons near and far who wish to tune in on a concert by concert basis. Each concert is available to stream as many times as you’d like following its premiere. Enjoy your BPO anytime, anywhere with BPOnDemand!

Questions? Check our our 2020-21 season FAQs, or feel free to reach out to us at bpomarketing@bpo.org.