The month of October heralds the beginning of the concert season for numerous musical groups around Howard County. While some hosted live performances outside or virtually last year, this season marks the first time since March 2020 that many have been able to play in a concert hall due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the excitement is high.
“For people who love hearing live music and for people who do it for a living, the last 17 months have been extremely difficult,” said Cynthia Fischer, marketing coordinator for Candlelight Concert Society, a Columbia-based nonprofit specializing in presenting world-class chamber music ensembles and soloists. “It has been sad without it. Music really boosts people’s spirits.”
“People are dying to get out and experience the intimacy and magic of live performances again,” said Jo Anne Yamaka, a volunteer with One World Coffeehouse at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia. “I know I personally feel burned out by streaming.”
The St. Louis Concert Series at St. Louis Church in Clarksville was the first to open its season with a presentation Sunday of the Washington-based vocal quartet The Polyphonists.
“It was wonderful; they were a perfect match for our 1889 chapel,” said Colleen Day Eberhardt, artistic director for the St. Louis Concert Series. “We were pleased with the crowd. You could feel the stage presence in the chapel.”
The church conducted a “hybrid season” last year, Eberhardt said, with a mix of both virtual and in-person concerts with limited seating held in the main church. This year, with more people vaccinated, the series will take place not only in the main church, but in the social hall and in the smaller, historic chapel, where Sunday’s concert was held.
“We can use more diverse groups performing different kinds of music,” Eberhardt said. “We will have more concerts this year with various sizes.”
Future St. Louis performances include the traditional holiday concert on Dec. 12 and a New Orleans Mardi Gras concert performed by the U.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp band on Feb. 25.
For St. Louis’ next concert on Oct. 30, it is partnering with Candlelight Concert Society to present the East Coast Chamber Orchestra.
“This is our first partnership with them. We also do one with the Baltimore Concert Opera and the Columbia Orchestra,” Eberhardt said. “It helps keep costs down and expands our audience base and reach into the community.”
Organizers of the Candlelight Concert Society said they are excited to partner with the St. Louis Concert Series to experience a new venue and to feature the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a collective comprised of some of the leading chamber and symphony performers from across the country.
“ECCO is a great example of blending new music with classic. New works that are tributes to great composers,” said Fischer, of the Candlelight Concert Society. “It is another thing that makes us stand out. We have classics that are tried and true, but we also have a mixture. We are entrepreneurs of new music.”
On Saturday, Candlelight will open its season with a performances by violinist Kristóf Baráti and Roman Rabinovich on piano. The ECCO performance, in partnership with St. Louis Concert Series, follows on Oct. 30, with Candlelight’s season then picking up again in January with a performance then held every month until April.
“Most of the performances are not vocal or wind instruments,” Fischer said. “It will be someone playing the piano.”
As its performances take place at different venues, including Linehan Hall at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College and St. Louis Catholic Church, the society will follow all COVID-19 protocols required at each venue, including using reserved seating for all performances except one — the ECCO performance at St. Louis Catholic Church, Fischer said.
“We haven’t done that before,” Fischer said. “People will buy their tickets before they come and pick their seats.”
One World Coffeehouse in Columbia will feature an entirely new setup when it hosts its first live performance since the pandemic on Friday. Celebrated and prolific folk singer-songwriter David Wilcox will perform. Instead of its traditional cafe style, with chairs around tables by the stage, the coffeehouse will feature seats in theater-style rows, with no tables. There will be no food for sale as in the past, either, Yamaka said.
“It will be very different in terms of setup,” Yamaka said. “In terms of wonderful entertainment, we still offer the same quality.”
All performers and venue staff are vaccinated, Yamaka said. While Wilcox will not be wearing a mask while performing, all audience members will be required to do so during the concert, she said. Tickets will be sold online only, not at the door, and there will be a livestream of the concert available, too.
“That’s new for us,” Yamaka said. “People can watch in real time up to the last minute.”
Wilcox is the only show the coffeehouse will present this year, Yamaka said, and there are plans to offer more in 2022 depending on the pandemic.
“Usually, we have 11 shows, one a month,” Yamaka said. “Fingers crossed for January.”
The Columbia Orchestra will perform as a large ensemble for the first time since the pandemic on Oct. 16 with its Comeback Concert.
“We’ve done some summer concerts and smaller group concerts,” Executive Director Katherine Keefe said. “It’s amazing to get the full group together and hear that full sound.”
All members of the orchestra were asked to get vaccinated or take a leave of absence, Keefe said. They will also be wearing masks when not performing.
“It was the best thing to do for everyone’s safety,” Keefe said. “We are reserving sections of the hall for social distancing.”
Future performances include a performance of “The Planets” on Dec. 4, the Pines of Rome on Feb. 5 and the group’s popular Symphonic Pops concert on March 12 and 13. The season ends with Mahler’s First on May 21.