Fabio Luisi never expected that his first performance as the conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra would be in a virtually empty Meyerson Symphony Center.
“Who can imagine this planetary thing?” said the 61-year-old conductor.
He agreed to a contract with Dallas in June 2018 that will begin this season and run until 2023-24, and his tenure begins Thursday with a full Beethoven program that includes Piano Concerto No. 2 with Yefim Bronfman and Symphony No. 8.
Dallas becomes one of the first major classic American organizations to return from the COVID-19 layoff. The audience will be capped at 75 in an auditorium that usually seats about 1,800 people, with space for more than 20 feet between each person. There will be no intermission and the orchestra will be reduced from about 70 to 35. Strings will wear masks.
“Better safe than sorry,” said Luisi. “We are used to an empty hall because our rehearsals are there. I think it won’t be a problem. “
This will be the orchestra’s first performance since March 8, and a free video stream will be released on September 17.
Dallas lost its last 77 appearances last season, announcing its revised 2020-21 schedule in July. The audience was selected from seasonal subscribers.
“We are essentially trying to accommodate them, because they took this leap of faith and had no idea if we were going to get a season. We had to disappoint a lot of people, ”said CEO Kim Noltemy. “It’s been a bit emotional for people since they took it from them for so long.”
The Dallas Symphony cut its budget from nearly $ 40 million to about $ 33 million. About 30% of the income is earned and the donations cover much of the rest.
“Bouncing up is easier for us than bouncing, say, for an orchestra with a ticket sales budget of 45 or 50%,” said Noltemy. “We spent a lot of time during this time connecting with the audience in various ways, from daily open-air concerts in neighborhoods in May and June. to a lot of digital content. And even musicians calling customers to say “Hello” and see how they are doing. “
A federal loan of $ 4.4 million for the Paycheck Protection Program allowed the orchestra to cover payroll for two months. Permanent layoffs were avoided, although there was temporary leave.
Dallas retained the law firm Squire Patton Boggs to obtain a federal government travel waiver that allowed Luisi to enter the country. The shutdown caused by the novel coronavirus led to the collapse of Columbia Artists Management Inc., Luisi’s old agency, although he will be represented by former CAMI CEO Tim Fox.
Luisi was also chief conductor of the Danish National Symphony and previously held positions at the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna Symphony, the Dresden State Chapel and the Orchester de la Suisse Romande. He is Dallas’ fourth music director in more than four decades, after Eduardo Mata (1977-93), Andrew Litton (1994-2006) and Jaap van Zweden (2008-18).
He returns to Dallas for Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)” with mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford from October 9-11 and a Verdi program with soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, tenor Piero Pretti and bass Wenwei Zhang from October 29 to November 1. The orchestra will be about 40 – small for Barton’s enormous voice.
“It will be difficult to find that balance,” Noltemy said.
The Dallas Symphony is unsure which audience will be admitted for Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” which begins November 27. She hopes to increase capacity by 25 every two weeks and reach 300-400 for the holidays.
In between each symphonic program, Luisi flies from Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport to London Heathrow and then back to Switzerland, where his final season as Music Director of the Zurich Opera begins with a Barrie Koskie production of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” on Sept. 20. That company sells 900 of its 1,100 seats and has an audio transmission system originally used when Luisi led a production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in 2005 on the floating stage of the Bregenz Opera in Austria. The orchestra, chorus, and conductor are located a few hundred yards from the stage in a rehearsal space, and their performance is conveyed to the on-stage cast and audience watching the performance.
“That was the key to being able to play the program as we conceived it,” said Luisi, “It’s very technologically advanced software. So there’s a gap of a thousand of a second I think, so it’s barely recognizable. a bit strange. You have to get used to it. “