Saturday, July 4, 2020 So You Want to Be a Socially Distanced Orchestra: Here is music that could safely be played by a reduced symphonic ensemble.

Alvin Singleton

Here is music that could safely be played by a reduced symphonic ensemble.

Published June 16, 2020. Updated June 18, 2020.

(Credit...Monika Rittershaus)

Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” might not be a great idea. Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder,” with 150 instrumentalists and even more singers? Ditto.

As the coronavirus pandemic endures, much of the attention in resuming the performing arts has been on the size and density of audiences. But symphony orchestras are often just as packed onstage as in their auditoriums. If concerts are to go forward with social distancing restrictions in place, they will have to include not just fewer listeners, but also fewer players.

What will those fewer players play? Chamber standbys, surely: the original 13-person “Appalachian Spring”; string-ensemble works like Barber’s Adagio and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade; Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos.

But what about more varied fare? Schott/EAM, a publisher of contemporary composers, recently posted an inspiring list of works from its catalog appropriate for social distancing. Universal Edition put out an intriguing selection of opera and symphonic reductions. In a livestreamed panel discussion on Thursday, several innovative chamber orchestras will share repertory ideas. We have followed their lead with our own playlist of pieces, old and new.

This 1979 piece for 14 players is more opulent than its slender requirements suggest. Winds, brasses, strings, piano and percussion cycle through chattering yet softly voiced motifs — until Mr. Singleton punctuates the mist with sinuous solos or dramatic eruptions. (Listen for the trumpet launching to the top of the ensemble’s textures shortly after six minutes and 30 seconds have passed in the London Sinfonietta’s recording.) Mr. Singleton’s work for orchestras is not played often enough; this piece could help bring his voice into more regular circulation. SETH COLTER WALLS


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