By Stephanie Chase
Guest Columnist
New York, NY, USA

It has been my pleasure and privilege to be an annual Resident Artist at Rhode Island’s Newport Music Festival since the summer of 2017. Like so many cultural institutions, however, the Festival has canceled this summer’s planned concert series due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From its inaugural season in 1969, the Newport Music Festival has been dedicated to presenting a packed schedule of concerts – largely classical but also encompassing popular music and other genres – in a variety of majestic settings that include The Breakers and The Elms mansions, but also the intimate Chinese Tea House spectacularly located on the Cliff Walk. It is one of the most prominent of the numerous American summer music festivals and attracts thousands of attendees yearly. Many of its performances are sold out in advance.




The Festival presents an impressive breadth of artists, from seasoned veterans of the concert stage such as Joshua Bell, Marc-Andre Hamelin and Frederica von Stade, to emerging American artists like pianist Charlie Albright and mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier, and the Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe; in fact, since its inception, the Festival has presented the American debuts of some one hundred and fifty now-eminent musicians. Its concert programming incorporates music’s “greatest hits” alongside novelties deserving to be heard, from all eras of music. Contemporary music is also featured; for example, in 2018, the acclaimed song composer Jake Heggie was a composer-in-residence and several of his beautiful works were performed. Last summer, the Festival began a Young Artist Program that drew four outstanding musicians, in their twenties, who were presented in numerous concerts and were coached by Resident Artists.

The Festival had engaged seventy artists for its three-week season in 2020. In addition to the musicians, it normally employs a staff who provide for the housing and dining needs of the artists, prepare venues for the audiences, organize press relations and fundraising events, sell tickets, move and tune the many pianos, and much more. Audiences attending its concerts help to support Newport’s economy through hotel stays, meals in restaurants, and other forms of entertainment offered locally. 

Even under the best of circumstances, concert presenters face daunting hurdles and challenges. Many do not own their performance venue and must negotiate availability and fees. Chamber music festivals must ensure that the musical capabilities of performers are of an outstandingly high and comparable level, and that the musicians are reliable and collegial. The concert programming requires great consideration: concerts should be of a reasonable length, the use of musicians balanced in repertoire that addresses their strengths, and the program attractive to an audience facing many other entertainment options. Once a concert series is established, it proves that the returning audience is placing trust in the quality of the concerts – and the Newport Music Festival has a devoted core following.

The Festival’s President and CEO, Suzanna Laramee, has stated that they are closely following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control as well as from state and local officials. In an interview with the blog WhatsUpNewp, she said that the Festival is now working towards a possible “floating season, one that will span through the winter holidays. We will feature what thousands of our annual attendees have come to expect: showcases from our internationally renowned resident artists, family-friendly concerts, and appearances by some of today’s most in-demand artists of classical music, hosted in historic venues and beautiful outdoor settings.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an enormous strain on concert organizations worldwide; audience members are customarily in proximity, as are the musicians both in concert and in rehearsal. Classical music audiences are traditionally older, which places them in the greater risk category for infection. Therefore, to “open up” these venues while the COVID-19 virus is still circulating in a substantial part of the population presents huge, if not insurmountable, challenges.

An additional problem is that ticket sales usually do not begin to address the actual cost of a typical concert, so placing persons in a concert hall and allowing for a six-foot or so radius of space around each family group is financially impractical. Most arts organizations are heavily dependent on donations for support, as well as from grant agencies. Grants, however, generally come with stipulations of provable arts activities within the financial year and, with the inability to reliably predict when future concerts might be scheduled and performed, these may now be at risk as well.

Due to the many unknown qualities of the COVID-19 virus and the current lack of a proven vaccine, the Festival’s plans must remain flexible, at least for the near future. In the meantime, it is organizing a Virtual Bicoastal Celebration featuring pianist Richard Glazier, with Special Guest Appearances, to take place on July 30, 2020.

The Newport Music Festival is encouraging patrons to donate their already-purchased 2020 season tickets back to the Festival; a portion of these proceeds will be allocated to a Resident Artist Fund, which is designated to be divided among 2020’s previously booked performers on a per scheduled-service basis. Many performance contracts contain a “force majeure” clause stating that cancellation due to strife or nature – such as a hurricane, severe flooding, or pandemic – releases both parties from obligation. This means that, for the artists, if their anticipated work is canceled, they will not be paid, nor are they guaranteed that the work will eventually get rescheduled. Therefore, the Festival is extending a generous gesture to its musicians.

The Newport Music Festival’s website at remains the best source of updated information on its plans.

How the Artists are Affected by the Pandemic

Since I joined its roster of performers, I have been deeply impressed by the other Festival artists, not only for their musical achievements, intelligence and dedication, but also for their kind support of colleagues and camaraderie. Plus, they are personable and, often, very humorous people.

Our lives have changed enormously in recent months. I have lost all scheduled concerts between April through October, and anything after that is subject to cancellation. Because virtually all musicians and performing artists are experiencing the same disruption, I caught up with four of the Festival’s favorites, two of whom have spouses working as emergency room physicians, and asked how their lives have changed since this time last year.

The New York Times has written of pianist Sara Davis Buechner that Buechner has it all ... intelligence, integrity and all-encompassing technical prowess.” She was born in Baltimore and studied with renowned pianists that included Rudolf Firkusny at The Juilliard School, and is a top prizewinner of the illustrious Gina Bachaur, Leeds, and Tchaikovsky competitions, among others. Dr. Buechner has performed concerts in all fifty states and throughout Latin and South America, Europe, and Asia, and is celebrated for an enterprising repertoire that encompasses the classics, new music, and rarely heard music, much of which she has recorded.

SARA DAVIS BUECHNER


Sara Davis Buechner

Life last year at this time was a busy but familiar one for me – a fairly even mix of concerts, traveling, and teaching young pianists at Temple University. April is the busiest time for the students, as many of them are playing graduation recitals or evaluation juries. And in May, I am usually gearing up for some summer time in Japan with my spouse’s family in Osaka. All this is just a distant memory now and the most disappointing part is the inability to travel to Japan, as we will shortly be greeting a new grandchild into the fold, and it looks like we cannot be there to assist and enjoy.”

***

“The summer of 2020 was planned to be one of my busiest, with good engagements at the Chautauqua Institute, Newport, Lake Placid, and at the Orford Music Centre in Qu├ębec. All of this is now erased, as is my first engagement of 2020-21 opening the season in Edmonton, Alberta. However, Orford is offering its students lessons online and it seems at least that bit of my work will be preserved.”

Stravinsky - Danse Russe (Performed by Sara Davis Buechner)

***

“Thanks to my teaching income at Temple, where I am a tenured Professor, we are financially in acceptable condition though we are, naturally, watching our budget. I have not filed for unemployment, nor do I intend to apply for funds from organizations that are helping needy artists. Rather, I am making donations to the Red Cross and other appropriate agencies that help the more needy. And my class of Temple students, many of whom are stranded here far from home, is getting regular lessons and a weekly group lecture for free through the summer. I feel it’s my responsibility to help keep them focused.”

***

“At the outset of the lockdowns in March, I was so stunned that I went into a kind of hibernation. It began while I was in the midst of a few concerts in New England and it was saddening to fly home instead of taking the train to Albany. When Temple informed us that lessons would be given online, I assumed that would last two to three weeks, not the rest of the semester. The worst part of all is the impact on the graduating students, who had prepared all year for their recitals.”

***

“And as my coming engagements were canceled, one by one, it became hard to look forward with any kind of optimism, and indeed I did stop practicing for a while. Only in the last three weeks or so have I begun to start my day with sight-reading and technical exercises, and I also started giving all my students a weekly online Zoom class in piano technique. I figured what’s good for the goose! Focusing on maintaining my skills gave me a more positive outlook. And I am beginning to think of this period as an opportunity for a personal recalibration.”

***

“Apart from the piano, I have been studying Japanese again in earnest and am taking two online classes offered by the New York Japan Society. And yes, there has been time for binge-watching The Sopranos (all done now) and The Untouchables (just beginning), with Naked City on deck. I love the film noir television shows.”

***

“Our future as artists has never been of the most optimistic variety, and now we must use our creative skills in ways previously unimagined. Only two days ago, I conducted an online interview via Facebook with a young pianist from New York, and all went smoothly with the exception of the piano in his apartment, which was woefully out of tune. When will we be able to assume the basics of our craft again? As much as I am grateful for home computers and the powers of the internet, our lives as artists is predicated upon personal, emotional, powerfully individual communication. And the internet gives us perhaps 65% of that at best. In the moment of pianistic inspiration on stage, shared with a roomful of rapt listeners in close communion; the arc of a poetic phrase in experiment during a chamber music rehearsal; or the tap on a young shoulder and explanation of a finger articulation during a private lesson – these are the times when the refinement of our musical calling reveals its innermost nature. The beauty of music cannot rely upon a screen or bandwidth.”

***

“Rather than make predictions about the future or music or anything else, I simply pray that a vaccine is found to quickly handle the coronavirus, and that we may find our way back to a richly shared life on our abundant planet. Until then, I’ll be practicing!”

__________________________

Cellist Sergey Antonov is noted for “combining formidable technique and an incredibly warm, penetrating and vibrant tone with a romantic musical sensibility to create music-making of a highest caliber” (Budapest Sun). Born in Moscow in 1983, he studied at the famed Moscow Conservatory with Professor Natalya Shakhovskaya, who was a student of Mstislav Rostropovich, and was mentored by Rostropovich. This was followed by studies at the Longy School in Boston with Terry King, a Grammy-nominated cellist who had been a student of Gregor Piatigorsky. In 2007, Mr. Antonov was awarded a gold medal at the illustrious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and has since enjoyed worldwide success through his performances as soloist and chamber musician. With pianist Ilya Kazantsev and violinist Misha Keylin, he is a member of the Hermitage Trio, which was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 2019 for its recording of two piano trios by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Sergey Antonov


Sergey Antonov

“In May 2019, we were steaming towards the summer, finishing the regular concert season. Festivals, concerts, trips and seeing our friends, colleagues, audience members new and regulars. I did not commit to teaching since I was dedicating all my time to performing, traveling, and touring.”

***

“My concert calendar varies from season to season, as you know, but usually I'm fairly busy between my solo performances, recitals and Hermitage Piano Trio. Looking back at March of this year, I was truly amazed to see, literally, an avalanche of cancellations unfolding in front of me – it is quite frightening to see all of this just shattering to pieces. Presently everything is canceled/rescheduled as far as October for me, with October still under question mark. These are truly unbelievable times for sure! I did apply for the state unemployment benefits but for now, it's still an unresolved issue on the department's side. Although I do not know anybody infected, firsthand, my heart goes to everybody who was affected by this horrible virus.”

***

“My wife, Veronika Blinder, is working her last weeks as a hospital Emergency Room Resident before graduating, which makes it even harder since the load of work on residents’ shoulders is huge. We never discuss the possibility for her to isolate herself from us. It's not ‘bravura’ or bravery – it's just a natural course of life that we took. As much as it was never a question for her to go or not to go to work, I can't imagine isolating her from the support system of the family. It is impossible for me to express my admiration of her and her colleagues. They are true heroes for sure!”


Dr. Veronika Blinder

***

“The strict new protocols that the hospitals around the country adopt now are presently their new normal: Personal Protective Equipment, glass separation, disinfections and such. All of this is the new reality for the medical personnel now, but we still need to realize that it's a hands-on profession that will never be safe for the fearless people who work in the medical field. The mental toll that is being crushed on her right now is unbelievable and there is not much she, or her colleagues can really do to relieve the stress. So, simple things such as comfort of the home, dinner with the family, watching a TV show together are so important now. That's why isolation was never an option for us.”

***

“Our son Noah has just turned ten years old. You know, I just admire the adaptability of kids his age to pretty much anything. His school went to an online platform and it looks like the rest of the school year will remain as such. And with the healthy dose of humor, really, what can be better for them in their minds? On a more serious note, we try to engage him in some extra work, he's practicing piano much more than usual, reads books, communicates with friends on the phone and online. Some days it seems to me that he is as happy as can be!”

***

“It has really been an up and down emotional ride between ‘I will use this time to improve myself’ and ‘What's the point?’ in one way or another. I know that it is very personal for any artist, but for me it is extremely hard to find motivation when there is no ‘goal,’ this being a performance. What I cherish the most in this profession is that it is truly live. We crave the energy between the audience and artists, the adrenalin of the stage, the ‘intoxication’ of the chamber music collaborations with fellow musicians and friends, the power of changing the world through music. Look at sharks – for them to survive, they need to move continuously to allow water to run through the gills. That's how I feel about artists. We dedicate our entire lives to do this. But we are all in this together and knowing that eventually we will come back and light up the stages is what helps me to move forward.”

Pyotr Tchaikovsky - Souvenir D'un Lien Cher, Op 42 - Melodie 
(Arr: S Antonov) (Performed by Sergey Antonov and Ilya Kazantsev)

***

“I was always a very active person in my hobbies. Skiing, diving, camping, climbing, traveling, all play a big part in my life. Now, we all understand that within the present situation, we, the artists, are unfortunately at the back of the line. When the life will return to ‘normal’ soon, we will still be in the void. Canceled concerts will not magically return to their designated dates. What has canceled is canceled for good.”

***

“On the bright side of this, I will try to use this time to do what I'm not able to do otherwise. For example, I'm planning a big two or three-week road trip to the mountains and canyons. I've been dreaming about doing this for years, but it's almost impossible for me to find time in the schedule to do it. Also, it's never possible to spend such a long time without the cello and remain in the best performance shape. So, here's my chance to do it. I consider it self-isolation at its best!”

***

“I really just can't wait to go back to the place where we all belong – the stage. And to do what I love the most, which is performing in front of the live audience. My deepest hope is that the future of classical music holds a new and amazing wave of appreciation – to be honest, from both sides; the artists and people around the world! As an artist, I use this time to reflect on how important, precious, unbelievably valuable the concert stage is for me and how easily it can be taken away from me. I hope it will make me a better musician and will boost even more, my responsibility when I set my foot on the stage. And I hope for the people around the world this will show how important and fragile the art is and will feed the audiences’ thirst for more of it.”

***

“I've been with the Newport Music Festival for thirteen years now and can't imagine my life without it. I've met hundreds of artists, played hundreds of pieces and concerts. The festival became my ‘July Family.’ Seeing some of the audience members, literally for years, is amazing! The Festival is not just a series of concerts, it's a living organism that exists for over 50 years now and a vital organ of the Newport community. Its Resident Artists Fund is truly an amazing initiative – I admire it and want to thank every donor and a friend of NMF for their support. I also admire every presenter who has chosen to pay the artists at least an honorarium for their canceled performances; it is the times like these that show us how fragile the world of the performing arts is and how artists depend on it. It warms my heart to know that we are all connected not only when the stage is bright and loud, but also when it's dark and silent. Again, I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude and appreciation to everyone who supports us during these hard times.”

__________________________

Romanian-American violinist Irina Muresanu enjoys a successful career as a soloist, chamber musician, and professor, with performances, teaching and master classes throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South Africa. She has captured top prizes in many illustrious music competitions and holds an Artist’s Diploma and Doctor of Musical Arts degree from New England Conservatory. An intrepid musician who performs works of many genres, her 2018 recording, Four Strings Around the World, features music for violin solo by composers from four continents, much of which is inspired by folk idioms. Its innovative program and her interpretations are widely praised; the Boston Globe recognizes it as an “illuminating release.” Ms. Muresanu has additionally recorded a variety of new music alongside neglected but worthy repertoire and has been a Resident Artist at the Newport Music Festival since 2015.

Irina Muresanu


Irina Muresanu

“A year ago, I was getting ready for my usual summer season; in 2019, I was away from home between June 16th and August 26th in order to perform in eight different festivals, including one in France. This also meant packing my car to the brim and putting a lot of miles on it!” 

***

“I am currently an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, a place I have been teaching at since 2015, after many years on the faculty at the Boston Conservatory. This year, our university closed right before the Spring break, like all the other institutions, so we had to devise in a matter of one week a revised plan for lessons, chamber music and studio classes. Luckily, within a week or two we found our stride. Nothing really compares to face-to-face lessons, but there have been a few benefits from this situation: the students had to do more videos and recordings – and therefore gained self-analytical skills – and my graduate students used their Teaching Assistant hours, previously used in orchestra, to teach the undergraduates. The undergraduates therefore had three lessons per week as opposed to one. Oh yeah, and we could take turns showing our pets at the end of the studio class each week, which is a little strategy I used to help raise the morale of the class.”

***

“I usually play a concert every week or every other week, so not performing for the last nine weeks has been really strange. Right now, my entire summer season has been canceled and even though some things were re-scheduled for the Fall, I don’t really believe that I will be performing live until January. However, this gave me a chance to share some of my most recent performances online, explore a few apps that allow musicians to make multiple-tracks videos, such as Acapella, and make a video for Notes of Hope, an endeavor featuring every night a different Boston musician who dedicates his or her performance to Boston healthcare workers.”

***

“My accountant advised me to apply for non-employment benefits this summer, as I will be in between semesters at the university – academic faculty are considered employed for nine months – and I will have no income from performing perhaps until 2021.”

***

“I am married to an Emergency Room physician, and my husband started warning me about this whole turn of events about five weeks before it happened. Like many of us, I was incredulous at first, but very quickly started paying attention. My cousin-in-law went to New York City from Louisiana to take care of her ailing father and she got sick for a good two weeks. Luckily, she eventually recovered, but what she described was very scary.”

***

“Since there was no way to stay isolated living under the same roof from the viruses that my husband could bring from the hospital on a daily basis, since the last week of March, I have been living in Maine in my mother-in-law’s summer house, with my son, dog and au pair. We’ve been through cold weather, a snowstorm, an outage and several other ‘adventures,’ but now it is finally nice and warm so, despite missing our home, we are starting to enjoy the scenery around here.”

***

“My son is ten and a bundle of energy! The transition to online school and, especially, losing the structure of the day, was at first incomprehensible to him. Little by little we’ve created for him a tightly packed daily schedule that gives a flow to the day and makes him miss his friends and home a bit less. It is also great that we have our wonderful rescue dog with us. She is a 13-year-old lab retriever, but she loves the extensive walks we take here, especially on weekends.”

***

“Fortunately, I am rarely lacking ideas, so this break from performing concerts and non-stop travel has allowed me to focus on an educational project that I have been meaning to do for a very long time. I have also planned and recorded two online performances: one for the Romanian Cultural Institute and the other one for Notes of Hope. I am ready to do more, especially since these events challenged me to become somewhat proficient on iMovie, Acapella and social media advertising platforms such as Instagram and Constant Contact. It’s a new world and we have to keep up with it.”


"Jettin' Blues" by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (Performed by Irina Muresanu)


***

“I have promised myself to work out every day during this time – I run four miles every other day, but I’ve also discovered a few online fitness websites that are wonderful.”

***

“Among the music that I look forward to performing are works for solo violin such as the ‘Twelve Fantasies’ by Telemann, Ysaye’s sonatas, and perhaps going back to something that I haven’t played in a long time: Max Reger’s solo violin sonatas. I am also contacting a few composers to commission new solo violin works for my Four Strings Around the World project. I miss, of course, playing chamber music and solo concertos!”

***

“The question of classical music’s future is worth asking every day, as music will always be meaningful and relevant. And I think that, judging by the outpouring of creative powers unleashed on the internet by so many musicians and musical institutions, we are getting closer and closer to the answer every single day.”

__________________________

Trevor Neal is a Grammy-nominated baritone and a recipient of the 2018 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Encouragement Award. A graduate of the University of North Texas, for several years he was a resident member of Opera San Jose, where he performed numerous roles, and he has been featured in performances in Korea. In 2019, he was named Director of Education and Outreach for the Newport Music Festival, where he has received high praise for his performances since his 2018 debut there. In the Spring of 2020, Mr. Neal was named Artistic Director of the Festival.

Trevor Neal 


Trevor Neal

“A year ago, I was in the midst of final performances of Madama Butterfly, singing the role of Sharpless, as the Resident baritone at Opera San Jose. During this time, I also had time set aside to coach and learn music for the 2019 Summer Festival. Now, I find myself in a surreal reality where we are not sure when we can continue our very important work of changing lives through the power of live music.”

***

“As a Resident baritone at Opera San Jose, I sang in all the mainstage operas in addition to my solo concert engagements. When I was first hired as the education and outreach coordinator at the Newport Music Festival, I still maintained an active performance schedule including engagements that were to occur in the months leading up to the festival and after. All those engagements have been canceled or postponed.”

***

“I’m blessed to have full-time employment, so I don’t have a need for unemployment benefits. If this had been last year, however, I wouldn’t be able to say the same. Currently, I’m in the process of organizing the festival’s music library and beginning the process of planning for the 2021 Summer Festival. The silver lining in this current pandemic is that I have the opportunity to begin something that the Festival has never been able to do before, which is planning a season in advance. My hope is that before 2020 is over I, along with our new Executive Director, will have done all concert scheduling, music selection and assignment, and contract execution. Once these items have been completed, we can then begin planning for the 2022 season. This will allow the Festival to really evaluate artistic and financial outlook, putting the company in a stable position to plan ahead and do the very important work of fundraising for the seasons.”

***

“[As a single person], I’ve found isolation as a time to really work on the things about personal mental and spiritual well-being. Often as musicians, we put so much work and all of ourselves into the music that often the emotional toll it can take can be dangerous and unhealthy. I have had a few friends who contracted the virus, but nothing too serious. A dear friend of mine, however, did lose both of her parents within days of each other to the virus and an aunt who made it through but was in serious condition for five weeks.”

***

“I’ve done some practicing as I have a show in the Fall of 2021 with the Virginia Opera Association, plus I planted a garden! I’m extremely happy with the progress so far. There will be tons of fresh homegrown organic vegetables for the summer. In terms of music, I look forward to performing. I’m desperate to collaborate again, so anything where I’m able to share my love for music with my colleagues and create an unforgettable experience for audiences.”

Dunque al Mondo from Madama Butterfly (Performed by Trevor Neal 
and Maria Natale) (Courtesy of San Jose Opera)

***

“I think that the music and arts organizations who are smart and forward thinking during this time of strain are the ones that will survive this. Now is the time to invest energy and resources into alternative ways to share the power of music. The Festival is looking at a few possibilities that include drive-in simulcasts, virtual galas, and – if possible – socially distanced outdoor concerts. Rest assured, we are energized to see our organization survive another 52 years bringing beautiful music to the historic Newport venues once again.”

__________________________

Stephanie Chase

“I, too, look forward to our eventual reunion in Newport and thank my colleagues for participating in this behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives during this difficult time.”



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Stephanie Chase



Stephanie Chase is internationally recognized as “one of the violin greats of our era” (Newhouse Newspapers) through solo appearances with 200 orchestras that include the New York and Hong Kong Philharmonics and the Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and London Symphony Orchestras. Her interpretations are acclaimed for their “elegance, dexterity, rhythmic vitality and great imagination” (Boston Globe), “stunning power” (Louisville Courier-Journal), “matchless technique” (BBC Music Magazine), and “virtuosity galore” (Gramophone), and she is a top medalist of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Recent concert appearances include music festivals in Newport, RI, Mt. Desert, ME, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Bargemusic, Music in Context (Houston), and as soloist with the New York Scandia Symphony.




All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.