Emotions erupted when renowned violinist and violist Ara Gregorian recently took the stage to perform for residents of a local retirement community.
It wasn’t just heartbreak at the thought of how much the coronavirus pandemic had taken from its audience. There was also joy that he and his fellow artists were able to give back – music – not a virtual concert but a concert that brought artists and audiences together again after more than a year and a half of difference.
âI said to the people there, ‘You’re so glad we’re here, but don’t get me wrong we aren’t also thrilled to be here,'” said Gregorian, founder of the Four Seasons. East Carolina University Chamber Music Festival. , reminding the residents of Cypress Glen of his words. “” It is not a very publicized framework, but it is we who can bring you what we do “.
âThere is something special about it,â he said. “This is something that I have probably taken for granted all these years.”
The 21st season of the festival changed everything. Due to COVID-19, the only way to continue the series of performances featuring world-class musicians was through digital media. But this week, the doors of AJ Fletcher Recital Hall will open to welcome Four Seasons’ first audience since spring 2020.
“It’s better in person,” Gregorian said in an interview this week between preparations for Friday’s opening concert, which will feature works by Joseph Haydn and Johannes Brahms. âIt’s the same as watching an NFL game at home. Some people prefer it, but the sound, the electricity, and the connection to the audience and the real closeness to the performers, you can’t duplicate that.
The Four Seasons fall season, which launched online September 19, begins today at Fletcher with Chamber Music Dressed Down, a brief performance coupled with a sort of open rehearsal that sets the stage for an impromptu discussion between the musicians and members of the public. The season’s opening concerts are scheduled for Friday at Fletcher and Sunday at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church in Raleigh.
All programs will be available for viewing at Four Seasons Digital Concert Hall, a feature added last year when public gatherings were restricted. Despite the return of live performances, digital concerts and other online features will continue. Masks will be compulsory for spectators as well as for artists.
During the Digital Concert Hall’s inaugural season, Four Seasons organizers found the feature to have value beyond the pandemic. Long-time subscribers enjoyed the chance to see concerts they would otherwise have missed had they been out of town and new audience members too far away to attend a concert in Greenville or Raleigh, were also able to watch.
âWe have found that people from all over the world on different occasions are logging in and watching what we are doing because they know the musicians we are presenting,â said Gregorian. âIt has been an advantage for us to have been able to continue to publicize what we are doing nationally and internationally. “
International artists, including renowned cellists Colin Carr from Great Britain and Zvi Plesser from Israel, are expected to return to the festival after virtually appearing in season 21. Other returning artists include two-nominated violinist Jennifer Frautschi. at the Grammy; cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, guest member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; and Alan Kay, solo clarinetist of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
For the season opener, Kay will be joined by festival newcomer Movses Pogossian, violinist and artistic director of the critically acclaimed chamber music series Dilijan; Hye-Jin Kim, violin and Kwan Yi, piano; and Michael Kannen, cellist and director of chamber music at the Peabody Conservatory.
In another throwback to the Four Seasons tradition, guest artists will stay with local host families during their musical residencies at ECU.
For nearly two decades, Paul and Jill Camnitz hosted Kannen and his wife, violist Maria Lambros, who were among the artists who came to Greenville to perform last season, although audiences were unable to attend.
âWe have become such good friends. We’re joking that he just keeps our key on his keychain, âsaid Jill Camnitz, adding that she and her husband have also visited the artists’ house in Baltimore, Maryland. âFor artists, they travel a lot and stay in many hotels. I think it’s just a good change, making those connections.
Gregorian said the pandemic has led Four Seasons to make additional connections in the community, including playing concert recordings in patient rooms at Vidant Medical Center and having guest artists perform live during the event. the Vidant / Pitt Large-Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center. The musicians have given over 80 Dose of Hope concerts.
âI don’t think we would have been there (Emptying) before the pandemic happened,â Gregorian said. âSomehow the pandemic both forced us – in a good way – and allowed us to think creatively about ways to partner in our community. As terrible as it may be, it got us thinking and creating new ways. “
Gregorian is looking forward to more appearances in the community and hopes to be able to bring performers this fall to area schools, which were closed to visitors during the 2020-21 school year.
âI think what we’re doing is really important and relevant because people need these kinds of positive things in their communities and they look forward to it,â he said. âMusic resonates so much with people, so we almost take it as an increased responsibility right now. “
But more than a duty, Gregorian considers bringing music to others a privilege, perhaps more than ever.
âIn this way, the pandemic has also been very educational and revealing,â he said. âThe renewed value we put on being in front of the people and playing for them, I think it’s important, and I think it adds something to the way we play. There is freshness. There is always that we love what we do and we love the music, but there is something new that you cannot duplicate.