The Ulster-born master of the flute, Adrian Spence, founded the Bach Camerata in Santa Barbara in 1990 (first performance — of the complete Brandenburg Concertos — Dec. 3, at the Lobero Theatre).
For their first four years, they played only in Santa Barbara. Then, in 1994, they changed the group changed its name to the more inclusive Camerata Pacifica, and added venues in Ventura (Museum of Ventura County) and Thousand Oaks. In 1997, they began also performing in Rothenberg Hall of The Huntington Museum in San Marino.
In 2007, they replaced Thousand Oaks with Zipper Hall of The Colburn School in Los Angeles. They continued to perform in Santa Barbara, in various venues. For many years now, they have made their local home at Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West.
As Adrian himself has often admitted, the Camerata was a mad venture from the start. And the more the audience grew, the more venues were added, the madder it appeared. Yet 30 years later, Camerata Pacifica is one of the great success stories in classical music, and probably the most important chamber music organization in Southern California.
Much of this success, of course, is due to Spence: his unstoppable energy, his organizational genius, his taste in music and musicians. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown all performing arts groups into idle, I sent Adrian a list of questions about how he and the Camerata were dealing with it. Here is his response.
How has the pandemic curtailed your own activities? No one can have accomplished all that you have accomplished without being constantly on the move, not just in performance weeks, with four venues in play, but throughout the year: networking, fund-raising, soloing with other ensembles, and so on. Now, the whole world has hit “pause.”
Well personally, it’s been delightful; I haven’t spent as many consecutive nights in my own bed in years, and with my two younger kids, (17 and 19), we’re enjoying lots of home-cooked dinners and resurrecting the ancient art of conversation. It’s a particular delight to work with my son Keiran, who’s now Camerata Pacifica’s Streaming Technician — our weekly broadcasts originate from his gaming computer in his bedroom.
For a symphony orchestra, a live performance is impossible, if you are to maintain physical distancing, but a live chamber music performance, 3-8 players, is theoretically possible. (I know you are experimenting with live streaming on line.)
A lot of the pleasure in a live performance, however, is in hearing it in proximity with many people — body heat, laughter and tears, hearts in three-quarter time, and all that. This is especially true of Camerata audiences, who seem to feel a uniquely close bond, almost familial, with each other and with the players, with you as the pater familias, of course.
An audience whose members must stay six feet away from each other is not really an audience at all. Can you describe your plans for keeping your audiences together in spirit, when they are living as isolated individuals?
I assume you are constantly in touch with the other Camerata Pacifica members, so how are they all getting along, being simultaneously in the same boat and alone?
How do you see Camerata Pacifica getting back underway, and when?
I’m going to respond to questions 2-4 together. I hope that works for you.
This is a remarkable time. I realize you’re interviewing me because my board and I are to lead a performing arts organization through it, but I think it’s valuable first to examine the situation beyond just an arts perspective. Concern for personal and public health, while absent definitive, reliable information, results in significant emotional instability for our community.
We can’t see this disease around us and don’t know if we’re going to catch it, or share it. Many are struggling with the significant financial repercussions. And we don’t know how long this is going to last, but few think it will be over soon. We do know that 250,000 have died from Covid-19, and we can rely on that being an undercount.
With no end in sight, that’s a staggering loss of life, so in that context, whether or not I get to perform Mozart live seems a little less than critical.
In these troubling times, arts organizations we must enquire of ourselves; given the restraints on our performance capacity how can we contribute to the well-being of our communities? Our constituency is understandably anxious and some will be suffer more directly, with grave outcomes.
We’re not the state governor, but with the earned trust of a few thousand people, we have a responsibility for leadership. How we now behave will determine if that trust has been well-placed. Through the unrelenting shrieks for attention by the content-hungry, 24-hour, news-cycle, Camerata Pacifica’s messaging will be calm and measured, offering a stability of gentle optimism.
Camerata Pacifica is fortunate to have developed a library of highly produced videos of our live performances, over 100 of them, which we are now live-streaming every Sunday as part of our Concerts at Home series.
Who would have known how important these videos would become? Every Tuesday we issue an email with information about that Sunday’s live stream, and every Sunday a reminder-to-watch message. The videos have become very popular, (our little YouTube channel has over 1,500,000 views), in large part because this medium lends itself to chamber music.
While nothing can replace a live performance, these videos afford a rather unique view into the art of performance, highlighting the expression in the artists’ eyes and the visual communication between the musicians. The videos are really quite good facsimiles for the real thing and are important, familiar contact with our audience.
A few times a week, therefore, we say, even though we’re apart we’re still here. And we’ll be here next week, and the next …
Check out the Camerata’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/cameratapacifica. All the Concerts at Home are archived there.
Recently I’ve read both Philip Kennicott [Washington Post] and Alex Ross [New Yorker] express disdain for those who refer to the healing power of music, saying it’s a trite, under-thought and over-deployed phrase. I agree, music doesn’t heal. What it does is illuminate our common humanity.
For hundreds of years, music identified as classical has survived, indeed been born of, times of dreadful hardship and strife. Certainly it can express darker elements of our character, but as a whole it is aspirational, always transcending the individual.
The things that terrify you, your hopes, anxieties and loves are not unique to you. They existed before you and will after you — as a people, we are united through our experiences. Surely today that’s an invaluable message?
Arts organizations need to polish their imaginations and begin preparations now, for a post-COVID-19 world will not be the same as pre-COVID. The first question is the most basic one and, from the Metropolitan Opera to the LA Phil to Camerata Pacifica, we will rudely discover the answer: “Will our audiences want us to be part of their communities in 2021?”
It is, indeed, a remarkable time.
Those are thoughts for another day. Today, my hopes are for the rapid elimination of this virus, and to no longer fear the published daily statistics.
Be kind and considerate to yourself and those around you.