History is replete with stories of virtuoso pianists entrancing audiences, whether it was Franz Liszt dazzling 19th-century concertgoers with cascades of thunderous octave runs or Van Cliburn mesmerizing Russians (and judges) during the legendary International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. Those moments were fueled by intimacy and proximity between artist and audience — something that has been missing from the local classical music scene until recently.
Following a couple of socially distanced Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra concerts, the Cliburn is presenting two pop-up concerts this fall, including one Saturday at The Post at River East. Serving a local, national, and international audience during a pandemic has required that the venerable performing arts organization rely on flexibility and an ability to adjust rapidly to changing conditions, said Cliburn president and CEO Jacques Marquis.
“We switched to online content” soon after the pandemic hit, he said, referring to Cliburn at Home, which featured streamed performances of past concerts with new artist intros, spotlight interviews with artists who had already been accepted to the 2020 Amateur Competition, and a new online education program.
Cliburn artistic consultant Buddy Bray and Cliburn staffers created Cliburn Kids this past March as a means of teaching homebound students about music fundamentals and related disciplines like math and history. The new video series will remain part of the nonprofit’s programming even after the pandemic subsides, Marquis said.
When Cliburn staff surveyed past patrons, the respondents said they wanted to hear live music but in a safe environment. The feedback led to Saturday’s pop-up concert, which will be held in the open-air patio at The Post. Seating will be limited, and social distancing will be strictly enforced, Marquis said.
“One key thing is to be relevant to your own community,” he said. All our local arts “organizations are trying to stay connected to their people. I like online concerts, but nothing beats live concerts. This also fulfills our role and mission of giving opportunities for musicians to play for the public.”
While live classical music concerts have cautiously returned to many European concert halls, stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates in the United States have led to many virtuoso artists opting out of performing in the States. To minimize the need for extensive travel on the part of the artists, the Cliburn will rely on regional and national bookings for now, Marquis said.
In lieu of announcing a 2020-2021 concert season, Cliburn staff recently launched Cliburn Essentials, a subscription series that divides the typical concert season into three-month “boxes” that each offer two exclusive online experiences (happy hour with the always affable Marquis or a livestream chat with a Cliburn artist, for example), two in-person concerts, and surprise gifts. Since bars and music venues can close without notice for public health reasons, the details of the winter and spring boxes have not yet been announced.
Pianist Natasha Paremski will perform two back-to-back concerts as part of the Cliburn’s first pop-up event. Marquis said the event, first and foremost, will be held with safety in mind.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “You can have a drink on the patio. It will be very casual with maybe 60 to 65 people. It is going to be an experience, which is what we are looking for.”
Marquis sees the one-year postponement of the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (now set for 2022) as an opportunity.
“We will get back to the [original] schedule in 2025,” he said. “Because we announced the postponement early, the pianists knew exactly when the next Cliburn will be, and it’s all about being well-prepared.”
As was true for Liszt and Van, as locals knew him, nothing beats the experience of an in-person piano concert.
“For the Cliburn, the audience is as important as the artists on the stage,” Marquis said. “It’s the exchange between the two of them” that is part of the magic.
Cliburn Pop-Up Concert Featuring Natasha Paremski
Sat at The Post at River East, 2925 Race St, FW. $35.