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This Is Why We Play': Amid Pandemic, Philadelphia Orchestra Livestreams Beethoven

Concert halls and music venues around the world have been shuttered due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but before closing its doors, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave one last performance on March 12 — to an empty concert hall.
Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin describes the experience of playing in a vacant hall and hearing silence at the end of each piece as "very, very unsettling."
"There was a feeling of emptiness that was challenging," he says. "[It] all made us realize how much we need the audience to bounce our energy back."
Although the seats were empty, the performance of Beethoven's Fifth and Sixth Symphonies reached more than half a million people, airing on public radio and livestreaming for an online audience, who commented in real time.
"The comments that we got during this livestream were all so beautiful," Nézet-Séguin says. "I just see it as another manifestation of the need to feel part of a community when we share great art together."
In addition to directing the Philadelphia Orchestra, Nézet-Séguin is also the music director of New York's Metropolitan Opera, which recently canceled all performances through the end of its 2019-20 season due to COVID-19. As a Canadian, he returned to Montreal to be with family after the unusual concert.
"We are living unprecedented times, but relatively speaking, I think we have to count our blessings," he says. "Hopefully, when this is all over, we can resume our live offering with a renewed sense of how important it is for us all to feel like a community."
Editor's note: The audio version of this interview includes Terry Gross' interview with Nézet-Séguin for a live audience at WHYY, which was broadcast on April 4, 2019.
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