"COVID-19 has affected every single arts organization around the world," Savannah Philharmonic Music & Artistic Director Keitaro Harada told me last week in a message.
"At SavPhil we are seeing the current situation as an opportunity to be extremely creative and to not let the traditional ways hold us back."
In March, Harada and his wife were scheduled to fly back to the United States after a trip to Japan, but the pandemic interrupted those plans.
Harada’s extended stay in Tokyo might turn out to be a blessing. As the new Associate Conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, he now has firsthand experience with innovative approaches for making music and finding audiences.
Harada discussed new safety protocols and other innovations in a recent episode of his YouTube series "Music Today" featuring composer John Mackey.
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In his talk with Mackey, Harada credited Japan’s relative success versus the coronavirus to a variety of factors, including citizens’ desire for personal space despite the high residential density of the island nation.
We aren’t ready for concerts yet in the U.S., but Japan is now allowing crowds of up to 5,000 under certain conditions.
Music lovers in the U.S. might have to wait longer for live performances, but we will benefit from other countries’ experiences and from a growing body of research about the spread of aerosols, including among musicians on stage.
So what might the Savannah Philharmonic’s new season look like?
"The most important part is safety," Harada said, "and I want to make sure everyone involved is safe and can simply enjoy the music."
Harada said to expect distancing for musicians and for audiences. Venues will have reduced capacity.
Some concert halls in Japan are exploring additional strategies, such as having ticketholders arrive and leave at staggered times. Some orchestras are doing shorter programs – 60 to 75 minutes – with no intermission.
The limitations have prompted some orchestras to perform programs twice in a day.
And everything is being livestreamed, sometimes via relatively inexpensive online ticketing.
"We are reaching far more people than ever," Harada said on "Music Today." He noted that 14,000 people streamed a recent concert.
Harada, who hopes to fly back to the U.S. with his wife in September, told me that the Savannah Philharmonic plans to make a season announcement in late August.
"We have already secured various venues to make concerts happen," Harada said.
If you want to get to know Harada better in the meantime, check out his ongoing broadcasts both in English and Japanese on "Music Today" on YouTube.
Bill Dawers writes the City Talk column for the Savannah Morning News.