Beethoven symphony dropped from Edinburgh International Festival following Covid-19 mask disagreement

25 August 2022, 17:25

The Philadelphia Orchestra, and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, performing at Carnegie Hall last year, mostly without masks
The Philadelphia Orchestra, and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, performing at Carnegie Hall last year, mostly without masks. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The Philadelphia Orchestra was due to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus this evening, but neither the choir nor the symphony are on tonight’s programme.

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Tonight’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Edinburgh International Festival has been replaced by Beethoven’s Fifth following a fall-out between the festival’s chorus, and the visiting Philadelphia Orchestra.

The American orchestra, for whom this concert marks the start of a 15-day multi-city European tour, had requested the chorus wear masks to perform with Beethoven’s choral symphony with them, to lower the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak among the touring ensemble.

However, according to reports, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus voted on whether the 130-strong choir wanted to wear masks, and subsequently refused the orchestra’s ask.

Last week the festival announced its programming change in an email to ticket holders, saying: “Unfortunately, as The Philadelphia Orchestra’s COVID-19 protocols differ from current UK guidance, it has become necessary to change the program for the Thursday 25 August concert to accommodate the orchestra’s preferences.”

The email from the festival continued, “We are confident that we have sufficient measures in place to ensure the safety of the chorus and orchestra to perform on stage together, following standard practice in UK concert performances.”

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Two weeks previously, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Ninth in Saratoga, New York with resident chorus, Albany Pro Musica. Both the orchestra and the chorus wore masks for this concert, with the exception of the brass and wind musicians.

Back in the orchestra’s home, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia has also decided to remove other choral works from its previously announced 2022/23 season.

In October, Rachmaninov’s The Bells has been replaced by Strauss’ Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, and later in the month, selections from Mozart’s operas replaces the composer’s Requiem.

The orchestra are in close conversation with a team at the University of Pennsylvania around their Covid-19 protocol, who have advised the ensemble throughout the pandemic.

This team helped the Philadelphia ensemble resume their performances in the summer of 2020 by studying how effective masks are at reducing the spread of aerosols when singing.