“Dozens of performances were canceled completely. Maybe up to 75 in total,” says Jonathan Martin, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s president and CEO. “We started doing virtual concerts in May and really started ramping that up to remote performances in September.” Of course, Martin is referring to rearranging life at Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra because of the global pandemic. Luckily for the city, Martin was quick to adapt and didn’t want the musicians to put their instruments away in their cases for the better part of 2020. “We’ve started doing a hybrid approach lately where there are live audiences and streaming audiences, too. Moving forward, about 90% of our performances will be this way,” says Martin. “We’ve put strict safety protocols in place to reduce risk: the number of people in attendance is limited and the seats are spread out, the programs are shorter now, and there’s no congregating in the lobby or at the bar.”
The heightened attention to safety and social distancing isn’t the only thing that COVID-19 has forced Martin and his team to think about.
“We are keenly conscious of how a performance will look and sound on your computer or your phone or your TV,” explains Martin. “We also have to pay attention to stage changes when we’re doing a livestream because we don’t want seven minutes of downtime while we change the scenery or chairs and people are sitting at home watching that.
“We now have to remember we’re performing for both in-person and virtual audiences. This will be true for our upcoming Pops performance in April that will feature mid-century standards popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. Not only will there be a live audience, but we will have viewers simultaneously watching on YouTube and on our website.”
Many businesses were worried about staying financially stable throughout the pandemic, but the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra had learned some important budgeting lessons in 2010.
“We had significant economic problems back in the Great Recession and had to cut back on big projects, implement significant cost controls and build up cash reserves,” says Martin. “We took a lot of medicine in the 10 years up to when the pandemic hit, which allowed us to reallocate resources quickly and be flexible. Still, we were just as surprised as everyone else that we were able to still operate.
“I can honestly say we are coming out of this crisis because of the generosity of this town.”
Not only did regular concertgoers contribute, but Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s corporate partners were also there for them, including Cincinnati’s own Western & Southern Financial Group.
“Our relationship with Western & Southern is like a piece of granite
— it will always be there and it’s rock-solid,” says Martin. “Their love of music and their love of the community really comes from the top. Beyond the substantial amount of money donated, they’re also generous with their intellect. We have always had someone from Western & Southern on our board. They’re so quick to bring their passion for Cincinnati and the arts into the conversation.”
Western & Southern’s support for Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra stems from those at the top of the organization.
“The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, like all forms of art, truly connects us with others,” says John F. Barrett, chairman, president and CEO of Western & Southern. “It drives our region’s success and makes Greater Cincinnati a great place to live, work and celebrate life. It fuels our community’s creativity and learning and helps put Cincinnati on the map because of their artistic achievement and innovation.
“With our support, we can guarantee that the ripple effect of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will continue in Cincinnati and further strengthen our community for future generations.”
Martin says that Western & Southern’s commitment to the arts sets a high bar.
“They really set an example and that makes it easier for us to have conversations with other corporations. Because Western & Southern isn’t just one of our sponsors — they’re our entire season sponsor. People say they’re like our anchor, but I always reply, ‘They’re not like our anchor, they are our anchor.’
“When I talk about it, it’s hard to describe our overwhelming feeling of gratitude, especially after we talk to other orchestras around the country. Cincinnati isn’t as big as some other cities, but people are always philanthropic toward the arts. We are lucky to be in Cincinnati. Damn lucky.”
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is located at 1241 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202. For more information visit cincinnatisymphony.org.