What has life been like for one of the many classical musical organisations affected by lockdown and a loss of income as up to a year’s worth of performances were jeopardised overnight? Clare Martin talked to Zarine Rocha, general manager of Bach Musica NZ to find out.
CLARE: Bach Musica has been part of the Auckland classical music scene since 1977. It’s grown into a well-established professional orchestra and choral ensemble led by Rita Paczian staging four major concerts every year as well as a few other smaller events. Plus your organisation runs educational workshops on singing, sight-reading and conducting. All that has come to a halt as a result of COVID-19 and the lockdown. How has that been for Bach Musica NZ?
ZARINE: It has been a really huge adjustment period. As events unfolded in March, it was a shock to realise that we would have to progressively let all our plans go for one concert, and then the next. We were in rehearsals for Bach’s St Matthew Passion, due to be performed in April. Sadly that was cancelled as was the next concert in June. With the restrictions, our choir and orchestra simply have not been able to meet to rehearse.
C: And what does that mean in terms of income for Bach Musica NZ?
Z: So this year, we have had to cancel our first two Auckland Town Hall concerts (half of our annual subscription series) that means ticket sales are gone and our income for the first half of this year is gone. Much like other classical music organisations around NZ, we need an audience and we need ticket sales, they’re crucial. We also rely heavily on contestable grants, and many of these have either been shut down or postponed over this period, meaning that we have not been able to access this source of funding.
C: And does that also affect the orchestral players and the soloists who were contracted to perform this year?
Z: This has had a big impact on our musicians - something that concerns us very much. Our orchestral players and vocal soloists have lost concert engagements for our cancelled concerts, and for freelance musicians, income is hard to come by when you can’t perform. We supported our musicians as much as we could by offering them a percentage of their fee as compensation for the cancelled performances.
C: So what could you do to mitigate the sudden loss of income?
Z: We have been extremely grateful for our generous supporters, subscribers and donors, who have very kindly helped us weather this difficult period. We feel very lucky to be able to make music for such a supportive community, and donations have been crucial in keeping us going. Our core funder, Foundation North, has also been understanding of the situation.
The funding opportunities offered as relief by Creative New Zealand have also been great, and we have started a new project funded by them just in the last few days called “Bach Musica NZ: Together in Music” where we feature our talented musicians, as they play or sing a piece which they love. Listen to Together in Music
Bach Musica NZ performing Bach's B Minor Mass in 2019 (image by Reuben Raj)
C: What other kinds of engagement have you had with audiences for the virtual performances you've given so far?
Z: We have had fun putting together a few different things. The choir worked together to create a couple of small videos using photos of our previous concert, and another singing on Zoom J S Bach’s Dona Nobis Pacem from his Mass in B Minor. Listen to Dona Nobis Pacem here
We have also had two Virtual Concerts, where we make the recordings of previous concerts available online. Our first, St Matthew Passion, was very successful and had over 1800 people listen in. It was wonderful to hear from so many people that they enjoyed the experience. Our second virtual concert, the live recording of our December 2019 concert, is online now, listen here.
Auckland Live has also been particularly supportive in helping us to reach out to wider audiences with these virtual features - they are all free of charge, and we hope that as many people as possible will be able to enjoy them.
C: And plans going forward?
Z: We will start rehearsals again this week, working on repertoire for our upcoming Singing Workshop and our next concerts later in the year. We very much want to perform for audiences once it is safe to do so, and to thank our supporters for standing by us over these difficult few months.
Although life has changed for everybody, we believe music will always be essential to lifting our spirits. We, as well as other arts organisations, endeavour to showcase how classical music can help ease some of the worry and uncertainty from this difficult period.