The Toronto Symphony Orchestra adapts to COVID-19 with a gamut of innovative virtual and in-person events.

Aamyneh Mecklai, Staff Writer

Musical shows on a homely front porch substitute the regal Roy Thomson Hall, and his wonderful wife, a pianist, substitutes the prodigal musicians of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). Such is the transformation of Fraser Jackson, TSO’s contra bassoonist, who spoke to Trinity Times about the future of orchestral music in the context of a raging pandemic.

“This would have been my 30th season in the Orchestra,” noted Jackson. Little did he know that his third decade at TSO would meet with an unsettling sense of ambivalence in the music industry and, more generally, the physical world.

Fraser Jackson–credit Christopher Wahl

Jackson is a prolific musician, arranger, and teacher who trained at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Southern California. Earlier this year, as orchestral practices and performances came to a standstill, he revolutionized his home’s front porch with his wife. Their front porch grew into a haven for 14 musicians who have conducted 17 performances for audiences that gathered from the neighbourhood in Toronto since March.

“You really feel that it [music] is a two-part exercise. Nobody ever wrote a piece of music to not be heard by an audience,” Jackson pointed out. “It’s been really unusual to be a musician with no audience.” 

Adapting to COVID-19 with front-porch performances, therefore, is a product of creative adaptability and the longing for a sense of resonance that music offers to both performers and audiences.

“We felt finally that there was a place for us to play, even if it’s very modest,” he chuckled while reminiscing about his home-based performances. As Jackson adapts to COVID-19 from home, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a charitable organization dedicated to providing programming and music education, is also charting a new path forward.

TSO introduced TSO at the Drive-In, a series of three-hour long performances by smaller ensembles at the CityView Drive-In on 20 Polson Street. This season, TSO will perform Kings of Ragtime, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and First Ladies of Soul as part of their Drive-In series.

The question then arises: What is the difference between watching shows online and watching the symphony in-person? 

To this, Jackson said, “It’s just a good practice in general to support your neighbours and pay attention to what they’re doing. That is how we build a good community.” There is something somewhat indescribable about in-person music shows that no video call can replace or substitute. While the Drive-In concerts will be a stark change from the extravagant Roy Thomson Hall, they offer a unique opportunity for performers and audiences to interact in real-time. 

The truth is, during a pandemic, it is our responsibility to not only spend money locally but also to support the artists of our community. In the isolating and disturbing times of COVID-19, music presents us with the opportunity to feel fiercely integrated even while we stand apart at a safe social distance of six feet. 

The TSO Drive-In tickets can be purchased via their official website or through Ticketmaster. Parking spaces are limited, and prices start at just $80 per car, so book your tickets by calling Patron Services at 416.598.3375!

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