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Cleveland Orchestra Announces Plans for Severance Hall Concerts This Fall

Performances in Severance Hall are going to be a lot different this season. [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
The Euclid Avenue facade of Severance Hall looks the same, but a number of changes are brewing inside, due to pandemic safety precautions.

The Cleveland Orchestra plans to perform on the Severance Hall stage this fall, but there won’t be an audience in the seats — at least, not at first. Performances will be scaled back in a number of ways, due to pandemic safety precautions, according to orchestra CEO Andre Gremillet.

“Our plan at this point is to have the orchestra on stage starting in early October,” he said. “We will have a shorter program, no intermission. And at this point, we anticipate there being about 50 players on stage at any one time.”

Gremillet said the details of the plan are being being developed in consultation with the Cleveland Clinic and will be submitted to the state of Ohio for approval. The first concerts will feature instruments that can be played with masks on. That means there will be few if any wind instruments on stage.

“The idea is that first it's going to be more limited with the winds and the more heavily focus on the strings and percussion,” he said. “And gradually, you know, with the help of the Clinic, we will see how things go.”

In addition to spacing the players at appropriate social distances with some partitions, everyone will be tested before the music begins. But, the rest of the auditorium will be empty for the initial concerts.

“We don't think we will have a live audience for the first few weeks of the season,” Gremillet said.

And while the orchestra works out the challenges of conducting concerts during the pandemic, the organization is planning to present recorded versions of those performances via an online video stream behind a paywall. ideastream is assisting with capturing video of performances.

“We will stream these concerts once a week so that our audience members who cannot be in the hall will have access to the concerts,” said Gremillet.

After working out the on-stage logistics and depending on pandemic guidance, the orchestra could begin opening its doors to a limited number of live attendees. Gremillet estimated that the capacity of the 2,000-seat auditorium would be reduced to about 400 people, carefully spaced out.

“But we don't see this happening in the fall at this point. We're talking more likely in January,” he said.

Whether in-person or via a virtual performance on the web, the orchestra plans to only make music in its hometown for the near future. All tours, including concerts in Europe and a January residency in Miami, have been cancelled for the 2020 – 2021 season.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.