CORONAVIRUS

Orchestra Iowa cancels fall season, makes other cuts

Orchestra Iowa musicians prepare for their 2018 Brucemorchestra concert on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion. This yea
Orchestra Iowa musicians prepare for their 2018 Brucemorchestra concert on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion. This year’s season opener has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Aug. 10 derecho which caused extensive damage to the historic estate in southeast Cedar Rapids. The remainder of the orchestra’s fall season has been canceled, as well. (James Year/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Orchestra Iowa’s fall season is the latest casualty from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brucemorchestra to Holiday Spectacular and all events in between have been canceled. And all 13 full-time Orchestra Iowa employees, including Music Director Timothy Hankewich and CEO Jeffrey Collier, will be put on a 50 percent furlough beginning Sept. 27, expected to last about four months, Collier said.

On top of that, the building housing the orchestra’s operations sustained water damage during the derecho, when a pipe in the sprinkler system on the third floor burst, sending water all the way through to the basement. The damage was confined to a corner of the music library on the third floor, Orchestra School studios on the second floor and part of the Opus Concert Cafe on the first floor. And even though the lobby has no lights, the ticketing system remains operational in the box office.

The library was a painful blow.

“We estimate that we’ve lost between 150 and 200 works of music,” Collier said. “A lot of times you don’t think about the orchestra library, but for an orchestra, that really is the heart. And in fact, as we’ve been learning, it’s the history of the organization. There are works in there that have markings from musicians from generations ago, and past conductors. So it’s a real gut-punch. You can replace the music, but you can’t replace the history.”

Orchestra Iowa owns the building adjacent to the Paramount Theatre, and this week’s steady rain has exposed several leaks in the roof line from tears in the vinyl covering. Collier said they’re working with contractors and insurance adjusters, but it’s too soon to estimate the cost of repairs.

The pandemic, coupled with the Aug. 10 derecho, also made Brucemorchestra, born after the 2008 flood, impossible to mount this year on the historic Brucemore estate.

“People have a lot of questions because it’s outdoors, so you can socially distance,” Collier said, “but the derecho has added issues to the issues that already existed. The reality with Brucemorchestra is that you can socially distance the audience, but you can’t socially distance the orchestra. The musicians don’t have the space on stage to actually spread out. To be able to give the community the kind of Brucemorchestra they’ve come to know and love would be impossible to do responsibly.”

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That same kind of issues move indoors, as well, where stages like the Paramount don’t have the space to distance the musicians, and audiences numbers would be reduced so drastically that concerts wouldn’t be economically feasible, Collier noted.

The orchestra has an operating budget of $2.5 million, and tickets sales typically account for about $700,000 of that. With the cancellations, Collier estimates losing approximately $450,000, “mostly in expected ticket sales and ticket office revenues, as a result of the pandemic so far this year.”

While the staff will move to a 20-hour workweek at half pay, the organization no longer has federal Paycheck Protection Program funds that allowed the musicians to be paid for the events canceled last spring.

With such circumstances, part of keeping up morale is staying “focused on how important it will be for the orchestra to come back — and come back doing what we do best — in the spring,” he said. “And in the meantime, we’re really focused on making sure that everybody recognizes that for the orchestra to survive and thrive through this, we need to make difficult decisions.

“It was really important for us to make sure that musicians know that we don’t expect them to be the only ones bearing the burden of these challenges. We are all in this together and we will make collective sacrifices in order to see the future of the orchestra stronger and better than ever.”

The following performances have been canceled:

• Horn Calls, Opus Concert Cafe in Cedar Rapids and Unitarian Universalist Society of Coralville, Sept. 18 to 20

• Beethoven 5x5, Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 24 and 25

• “Ghostbusters,” Paramount Theatre, Oct. 30

• Triple B Threat, Paramount Theatre and the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, Nov. 13 and 14

• “The Nutcracker,” Paramount Theatre, Dec. 5

• Holiday Spectacular, Paramount Theatre, Dec. 18 to 20

All ticket holders are being contacted directly, and will be offered a variety of options for their tickets, including donating the cost to the orchestra. Questions can be directed to the Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office at (319) 366-8203 or tickets@orchestraiowa.org.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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