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We’re back live – but we’re not celebrating

Published Friday 13 November 2020

Last week we performed live again, but there’s no cause for celebration.

By Peter Bellingham, Chief Executive, Sinfonia Cymru.

Last week Sinfonia Cymru gave a live performance, the first since March. But, wonderful as it was to back in the rehearsal room and to hear live music again, it’s no cause for celebration. These are very small steps on a much longer journey.

In Wales, which has its own rules for dealing with the pandemic, performing to a live public audience, even socially distanced, is not yet permitted.  Our concert was to students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – permittable because it’s in an educational context – and then streamed more widely.

It was a chamber concert with seven players. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sinfonia Cymru presents a wide and varied range of performances, and chamber ensembles feature heavily in our programme mix. But it replaces a project that would have used 21 musicians, so immediately we are engaging far fewer people as we make our work fit within Covid-19 criteria. This is why we shouldn’t celebrate.

While it was satisfying for me, personally, to be unleashed from the desk and to be able to enjoy rehearsals and a performance again, and while  the players who were engaged got enormous pleasure from their experience, I am acutely conscious that there are countless musicians, and other artists, who, as self-employed freelancers, have had little or no work during the last eight months. Many of them have also fallen between the cracks of the various financial support schemes that have been put in place. Their careers are on the edge. I’ve spoken to some who are seriously questioning whether being a freelance musician is a viable option for them going forward and they are thinking of giving up. The Musicians’ Union estimate that as many as 34% of musicians are considering abandoning their careers.

As an organisation that works exclusively with young musicians in the early years of their professional careers, we feel their desperation. We have to hope that things will improve and that before too long we will be able to present a full programme again, to a paying public, and with the wide range and scale of projects that we would normally produce. We must get back to giving work to as many of these young, talented musicians again, and soon. Then we’ll have cause to celebrate.

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