Performing arts organizations continue to respond in creative ways to the limitations placed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even among all these worthy efforts to keep engaging “virtually” with audiences, however, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s new CCMONSTAGE Online series promises to be a standout event.
Debuting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11 on CCM’s home page and YouTube channel, CCMONSTAGE Online, will bring performances by CCM’s outstanding students and faculty members into viewers’ homes – at no charge.
The channel will give CCM vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers the chance to continue a vital part of their education by performing for the public.
And the “curated” video series will give CCM students in other disciplines – the “E-Media” of TV, video, internet and related fields, plus theater design, production and more – the opportunity to hone their skills for the public as well.
“We have to do everything possible to help these young artists succeed,” says CCM Dean Stanley Romanstein.
The Dec. 11 program – an hour-long “Classical Virtuosity” concert by the CCM Philharmonia, conducted by Mark Gibson – is the first of four “episodes” recorded by CCM forces this fall, according to CCM Director of Marketing and Communications Curt Whitacre, who helped develop the new streaming series during the past few months. “And we hope to record at least that many episodes again in the spring,” he says.
The Philharmonia program will feature music by Claude Debussy, Ottorino Respighi, Julia Perry and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After the Dec. 11 premiere, the program – as well as subsequent CCMONSTAGE Online episodes – will remain available for viewers to stream online.
Each installment of the series will spotlight a different CCM program or ensemble, Whitacre says. On tap are performances by the CCM Ballet Ensemble, the CCM Chamber Choir, and a collaborative concert with CCM string quartet-in-residence the Ariel Quartet and members of the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program. Dates for these episodes’ premieres will be announced later, but should take place early in 2021.
For this ambitious project, CCM recruited a prominent alumnus, videography expert John Massey of MasseyGreenAVP, to direct the production with an experienced video crew providing unique perspectives. For example, CCM alum John Tapogna used his 25 years’ experience as a sports videographer to execute close-up shots displaying performers’ technical skills.
Each performance uses several manually operated cameras to create an in-depth look at the artistry on stage.
“Our goal was to capture the world-renowned talent that CCM has to offer through multiple cameras, providing CCM with professionally-produced videos to share with their fans virtually,” Massey says.
Along with an actual concert performance, each episode will include short “vignettes” of students and faculty members discussing the repertoire and performance as well as other topics, such as social justice in the arts and performing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That latter topic should be one that CCM performers can discuss with authority, as they were faced with the task of adhering to strict anti-COVID protocols while rehearsing and producing the videos.
During the Philharmonia performance, for example, the student musicians were spaced several feet from each other on a well-ventilated stage, separated in various spots by plexiglass barriers, with non-wind musicians wearing masks while playing.
In employing such precautions, the CCM performers have been the beneficiaries of UC and CCM’s own, first-of-its-kind study, completed this past summer, that quantified just how performing music spreads the coronavirus – and what musicians can do to reduce the risk to themselves and their listeners.
The study, led by UC College of Health faculty member Jun Wang with help from CCM musicians led by faculty member James Bunte, was followed nationwide by arts and health professionals.
Now, the knowledge gained in that study is helping CCM and other performing arts organizations get back to where they want to be – performing for an audience, even “virtually.”
And it’s possible that the CCMONSTAGE Online series may become a permanent feature of CCM’s activities.
“Frankly, I hope that we will be able to continue this performance video series even after life returns to normal post-COVID-19,” Whitacre says.
But for now, as the current resurgence of the virus has heightened many people’s fear, frustration and sense of isolation, this kind of access to the arts is especially needed.
“The performing arts help to build and sustain a sense of community,” Romanstein says. “Now more than ever, we crave the sense of fellowship that comes through shared cultural experiences.”
It may be “just” a virtual concert series, but CCMONSTAGE Online also could be a sign of renewed hope – both for the performers themselves and the audiences they touch.
As one CCM dancer puts it in a promotional video for the new series: “To perform on stage – this has brought me back to life.”
Watching CCMONSTAGE Online
What: “Classical Virtuosity,” featuring the CCM Philharmonia, Mark Gibson, conductor
When: Streaming premiere 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11
- Claude Debussy (orch. Maurice Ravel), “Danse”
- Ottorino Respighi, “Trittico Botticelliano”
- Julia Perry, Short Piece for Orchestra
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201
Where: Streaming simultaneously on CCM’s homepage and YouTube channel.
This story was made possible in part by the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.