TUPELO • The performing arts have relied on a combination of out-of-the-box methods to continue their work during the pandemic.
Terms like “online,” “virtual” and “livestreaming” have been used to describe the new outlets for performances. The North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, however, is turning to a more traditional platform for its upcoming concerts: Television.
The NMSO is partnering with WTVA/WLOV to present the four concerts of its 2021 season. Steven Byess, the NMSO music director/conductor, said the orchestra’s officers and board of directors decided to go the TV route for the safety of the musicians and the people who attend the performances.
“We felt it was the most prudent and safest decision to record our programs and then broadcast them,” Byess said. “Live orchestras and performing companies are going to virtual formats, but a lot of our patrons don’t stream things. We had the great brainstormed idea that WTVA is omnipresent in Tupelo and the region. ... In many ways, it will give us access to a larger number of patrons by broadcasting through WTVA.”
The four concerts will be recorded at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts and shown as separate one-hour broadcasts spread out over the spring on the WTVA/WLOV stations.
Luke Stanford, general sales manager of WTVA/WLOV, said he’s working with NMSO executive director Lisa Martin to iron out the details about the concerts.
“They wanted to find a way to continue providing their services and the arts they produce,” he said. “Obviously, the environment of having live events and spectator events have changed dramatically in the last 10, 11 months. We’re glad to be an option to help them continue what they do on a normal basis but in a different way.”
NMSO’s original plan this season was to perform the concerts between January and April. But to ensure enough social distancing for a 39-piece orchestra, a change in venue was neeeded.
COVID-19 restrictions eliminated venues like the Tupelo High School Performing Arts Center. Byess said churches and other school venues were considered before the NMSO selected Ole Miss’ Ford Center.
“We wanted a venue that has enough space to accommodate the orchestra and be properly spaced, but also has acoustics that are reasonable and also can keep out outside sounds for video recording,” Byess said. “We’ve performed there before. It’s beautifully spaced, both acoustically and visually, and has the lighting and the infrastructure necessary with the chairs, music stands and equipment we would need to produce something like this.”
Byess said the NMSO will record its first two concerts of the season – “Beethoven 7” and “Sublime Masterpieces” – during the final weekend of January. The other two concerts – “Mendelssohn 5: Reformation Symphony” and “Beautiful Beginnings” – will be filmed on the last weekend of March.
The first concert, Stanford said, could air in late February on one of three stations: WTVA (NBC affiliate), WTVA2 (ABC) or WLOV (Fox).
“It’ll take them some time,” he said. “They have a producer who’ll work on editing it to a one-hour broadcast. With our television stations, we’ll have to get closed-captioning and everything else sorted out. With us having three different stations that can broadcast, we’ll look at what times we have available and they’ll have to chose what time they think will be best for viewership.”
Byess said the NMSO and Ole Miss will use this opportunity to enrich the NMSO’s presence in the Oxford/University community. Some ideas mentioned include allowing students to attend rehearsals and Byess making presentations on campus.
Orchestras throughout the world have been adapting to their circumstances in order to continue performing, Byess said.
“During these times, we want to try and find a way to connect with the people in our community and provide what we do normally, and that is to be a comfort and a source of strength and connection for music and the arts to our patrons,” he said.
“It’s a new venture for us,” Byess added about the broadcast opporunity. “It’s unchartered territory, but what a great thing to be able reach people even when we can’t get together.”