Big concerts with large crowds are still probably months away, but classical music fans may be able to get a taste of what they’re missing Thursday as the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra closes out its 90th season with a virtual concert.
The free concert, under the direction of John Devlin, will be held through the orchestra’s Facebook and YouTube pages beginning at 8 p.m.
The show was originally meant to be a musical extravaganza, but those plans were dashed as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. Devlin said once the symphony realized they wouldn’t be able to perform in public, they reacted quickly.
“A month and a half ago, we dove into every technical tool we could think of to come up with some kind of solution,” he said.
A few symphonies, Broadway shows and operas were rebroadcasting old concerts. A few others were getting performers to play or sing from their homes, but neither idea appealed to the Wheeling Symphony.
“Doing some kind of Zoom meeting broadcast with our musicians seemed far too risky,” he said.
Keeping musicians on the same beat would have been nearly impossible over the internet, so Devlin reached out to composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, who provided chamber music that could be played by a smaller group of socially distanced musicians, and 17-year-old pianist Maxim Lando, who produced a video of himself performing a couple of Tchaikovsky etudes.
Members of the orchestra then recorded individual pieces at their homes, the tracks were edited and the parts layered together to form a cohesive musical track. Devlin joined in for part of the process, pulling out his clarinet and performing.
“I put away my baton,” he laughed. “Nobody wants to see me conducting at a screen, especially me.”
The free show is pre-recorded. It’s not the same spectacle the symphony had planned, but it will still be a display of talent, creativity and orchestration. Along with works by Snider and Tchaikovsky, Thursday’s performance will feature pieces written by Shostakovich and Ravel, among others.
Devlin said the Wheeling Symphony planned to move forward with a new season, but would wait until after Thursday’s concert before announcing its schedule.
“We plan to announce the last show of the next season first and then announce additional shows as we go along,” he said.
Tonight’s show is free to watch, but the WSO will accept donations online or by calling 304-232-6191. In the coming months, Devlin said the symphony will also explore different funding models and ways to keep making music.
“We want to continue to provide a great musical experience for Wheeling, as we’ve done all these years,” he said.