PICTURED: The Jerusalem String Quartet will join New West Symphony for its Holocaust Remembrance events Jan. 27-31. Photo by Felix Broede

by Mike Nelson


Could it be that live-streamed artistic performances will become more (if not totally) the norm, even after the coronavirus pandemic is a distant and unpleasant memory?

As confronting as the pandemic has been,” says Michael Christie, music director for the New West Symphony (NWS), “it’s given us lots to think about and tools to use down the road. It’s forced us to confront digital media and other skills we all knew we’d need in order to be up to speed with, and embrace going forward. And for organizations like ours that present their work at a designated time and place, it makes us think about the broader experience of our performances.”

The “broader experience” — including interaction between audience and performers during intermission, to enhance audience accessibility — was something NWS began in 2019.

Maestro Michael Christie, music director of New West Symphony, February 2020. Photo by Kenny Backer

“Even before COVID,” says Christie, “we had an enthusiastic response from our audiences who got to know our musicians and our work on a more personal, relaxed level through informative banter. And nothing has changed in our desire to connect with people, whether it’s via Zoom or other platforms.”

On Jan. 31, NWS presents via livestream its third concert of the 2020-21 season, “Holocaust Remembrance,” exploring Jewish themes through music of the late 19th centuries through today. Works will include pieces by Johannes Brahms (String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major), Erwin Schulhoff (Five Pieces for String Quartet), John Williams (three pieces from Schindler’s List) and more. 

Guest performers include the acclaimed Jerusalem String Quartet, pianist Daniel Vnukowski, NWS concertmaster Alyssa Park (violin) and section principals Philip Triggs (viola) and Joshua Ranz (clarinet). The concert features pre-recorded performances that, while absent the atmosphere of a live venue, offer another dimension that in-person concerts do not.

Alyssa Park, concertmaster of New West Symphony. Photo submitted

We’ve had a lot of great feedback from our patrons on the camera work that show closeups of the musicians which you don’t get to see when you‘re in the performance hall for the audience,” says Christie, speaking by phone from his Minneapolis home where he and his wife, an emergency room physician, well understand the challenges of the pandemic.

Indeed, this new method of presenting concerts offers a unique but not insurmountable set of challenges. Not only are the orchestra members socially distanced and masked (except for woodwind and horn players, and then only when they are playing), they are not always together in the same room when playing.

“For me,” says Christie, with a smile, “the great challenge is trying to gather music for different-sized ensembles to play while safely distancing. Planning for a regular orchestra concert with 60 members is a whole lot easier. But our musicians are enthusiastic about playing for our patrons, who seem to enjoy these different-sized efforts.”

The Holocaust Remembrance concert, he says, will celebrate “an incredible chapter of music history where you can see an array of cultural influences — classical, folk, contemporary — mixing together. There were literally hundreds of Jewish composers and artists flourishing in the early 20th century who were captured, exiled and struck down by the Nazi regime. So this concert is a way to honor that period, especially in Southern California where our music history is replete with contributions from these composers. It’s the story of the music we know as well as great discoveries of works from a very special time.”

Ahead of the concert, NWS will present “complementary content” including interviews with the Violins of Hope Los Angeles Chair Susanne Reyto and a local Holocaust survivor (Jan. 27, 7 p.m.), a pre-concert talk with musicologist David Ravetch (Jan. 28, 6 p.m.) and an interview with Jerusalem Quartet members (Jan. 30, 7 p.m.).

“It’s a special combination of our musicians and guests, working within the parameters we have,” says Christie. “This concert, even in the hardest of health circumstances, has come together well.”

Holocaust Remembrance virtual events take place Jan. 27-31. For schedule, tickets and more information, call 805-497-5800 or visit newwestsymphony.org/2020-21-virtual-season/holocaust-remembrance/.