Wear a mask. Stay six feet apart. At the beginning of 2020, these are phrases that meant absolutely nothing to most of us. Gone are the days of hugs, handshakes, and walking whichever way you want down a grocery store aisle.
Gone also are the days of sitting elbow to elbow in a concert hall to hear the marvelous sounds of a symphony orchestra. Though the experience may look a little different, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the desire for live music. Surveys and anecdotal data have both shown that, even given the exponential increase in digital content, there is no replacement for a live performance. So, what will the Jacksonville Symphony do to safely bring music to Jacksonville?
First and foremost, the capacity of Jacoby Symphony Hall has dropped by almost 65 percent. The hall that could once hold almost 1,800 people will now be only able to seat just over 600. Those 600 that can be seated will be spaced out with a minimum of six feet in between every party.
Another hurdle to overcome? Jacoby Symphony Hall is one of three performance venues located in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. In the past, at 7:45 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday the Times-Union Center lobby may have been bustling from those attending a performance of Beethoven or of the hit Broadway production Wicked. Traditionally, both performances started at 8 p.m. and the lobby was full of people, energy, and excitement for the music awaiting in the dark halls.
In 2020/21, Jacksonville Symphony evening performances will start earlier to ensure a limited and controlled capacity in the lobby at all times. Patrons waiting in line for drinks in the lobby will no longer be able to use reusable Jacksonville Symphony cups and will need to enter Jacoby Symphony Hall through designated doors.
Once you are in the hall, you may think to yourself, “How do you physically distance an orchestra?” And it’s a great question. Over the summer, Music Director Courtney Lewis and the symphony’s artistic team adjusted the 2020/21 symphony season three times. This is a process that usually takes months and months of crafting and perfecting when done only once. They managed to create a diverse and engaging setlist in less time than usual and with far more restrictions.
Normally, the symphony will perform pieces requiring anywhere from 60 to 80 musicians on the stage for any given piece of music. This season, the repertoire has been specifically selected to fit closer to 50 musicians on the stage. This allows for our musicians (and our conductors!) to be safely physically distanced on the stage, while also filling the demand for live music in Jacoby Symphony Hall.
Along with a slew of other protocols and requirements, this is what the new symphony experience will look like. With the help of building manager ASM Global, the symphony is dedicated to keeping the Times-Union Center clean and safe for patrons eager to consume live art again.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and we hope to see you back in Jacoby Symphony Hall.
*Policies are subject to change.