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Tucson Symphony Orchestra's digital presence a game-changer beyond COVID-19

Tucson Symphony Orchestra's digital presence a game-changer beyond COVID-19

TSO seeks to use online platform to further connect with community

For some arts organizations, taking their 2020-21 seasons digital is a stopgap to protect their bottom lines and connect with their audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Tucson Symphony Orchestra, it might be a game-changer.

The orchestra, which launches its 2020-21 season on Friday, Sept. 25, plans to continue its digital presence long after the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a threat.

“We are going to stay connected this year, but it’s going to inform us how we can use digital platforms going forward,” said TSO President and CEO Steven Haines. “We are going to find ways to elevate the live experience in the Music Hall and to elevate performances at home. I don’t want this to go away after this year. It’s going to stick with Tucson Symphony Orchestra.”

“Whatever we do now is still going to impact the future,” added TSO Music Director José Luis Gomez, speaking by phone from Italy where he has been since the pandemic began last March. “It’s a great opportunity. This is like reaching out more than ever to the community.”

The orchestra in August postponed its 2020-21 season, announcing that it planned to create digital programming that would conform with COVID-19 health recommendations. The result was the orchestra’s “Up Close” 2020-21 season, which includes four digital series, from ensemble performances to musical discussions, that will be streamed on tucsonsymphony.org and vimeo.com.

The season opens Friday with the debut of “TSO Dialogues,” a series of interviews with musicians and musical figures conducted by Gomez, who said he hopes to return to Tucson once COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased. The inaugural event features renowned Israeli-American cellist and conductor Amit Peled, who has guested several times with the orchestra including a 2015 performance on famed Spanish cellist Pablo Casals’ cello.

Haines said the orchestra also has begun construction of a mobile stage for its “TSO On the Go” series that will feature small ensemble concerts before limited outdoor audiences. The mobile stage will allow the orchestra an in-person connection with the community.

Still to come: plans to take the TSO’s vast educational outreach programs to the digital realm, from its popular Just for Kids concert series and groundbreaking Young Composers Project to its Music in the Schools efforts that reach more than 100 schools in 16 local districts, Haines said.

“Right now we want to get everything up and running and test the technology and make sure everything is working. We want to start … thoughtfully and methodically because clearly health is our top priority,” Haines said.

TSO has been working on taking its season digital since early in the summer when it became clear that holding public concerts at Tucson Music Hall was not going to happen anytime soon. In August, the orchestra announced it was working on plans to present events online just as Phoenix Symphony and dozens of ensembles nationwide announced they would bow out of their 2020-21 seasons altogether in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What is important to understand is that we are not alone in this. Orchestras around the world are trying to figure out ways to keep connected to their communities,” Gomez said. “All of these initiatives we are trying to create, we want them to stay in the future, as well.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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