arts entertainmentPerforming Arts

Orchestra of New Spain stirs up controversy with the first live, public concert in the region

The hourlong performance featured 11 string players wearing masks and social distancing.

On a day that Dallas County topped its previous high for the number of new coronavirus cases, the Orchestra of New Spain held its first concert Friday night since performances everywhere were shut down in March.

The Dallas Morning News spoke with multiple sources who attended the concert.

Held at Zion Lutheran Church, the hourlong performance featured 11 string players wearing masks and social distancing. Audience members were required to wear masks and practice social distancing, as well.

The concert stirred up considerable debate on Facebook among classical performers and supporters with ties to the area. Some preferred to watch the livestream of the event from home, while others thought it was too soon to have a concert and considered it a nonessential activity.

“Now is not the time to reopen live, ticketed music events,” said Miguel Cantu IV, a violist and co-founder of the American Baroque Opera Co., in a Facebook post.

When asked about negative reactions, Orchestra of New Spain music director Grover Wilkins III said “they’re allowed their opinion,” adding that he’s “not an irresponsible person.”

“I think there was no danger, and I felt pretty strongly about that,” he said.

‘Sufficiently limited’

Wilkins also said he was sick in March, and thought it was the flu. In May, he tested positive for having had the coronavirus.

While conducting, Wilkins wore a face shield without a mask. He also spoke to audience members using a microphone between pieces. “I did not consider wearing the face mask with the shield because I was having trouble seeing the music [and] because it would be difficult to talk to the public,” he said.

In a post-interview email, Wilkins said, “Behind the decision to perform was our belief [...] that the size of our following is sufficiently limited and the general audience for early music sufficiently limited that we could easily control all the parameters.”

“I hope we encourage others to come up with ways for live performance in appropriate settings.”

Safety precautions

Based on ticket sales, 45 people were in the audience. They entered the church from the side doors, according to sources, were instructed not to gather in groups, and exited the space one row at a time.

“The safety precautions were extremely well done, everybody was at least 6 feet away [from each other],” said Charles Deur, an oncologist from Arlington who retired a year ago. “I don’t think I heard a cough or sneeze.”

Deur decided to attend the performance because of his passion for baroque music. “I was having an acute shortage of music to listen to,” he said.

In addition to selections from the baroque era, the program included overtures from three late 19th-century Spanish zarzuelas by Tomás Bretón, Ruperto Chapí and Federico Chueca.

Responses from musicians

Of the 11 musicians who performed in the concert, most of the seven who were approached by email and Facebook message didn’t respond or declined to be interviewed. At a time when freelance musicians have lost almost all work, they’re understandably worried about losing future gigs.

One musician did speak on the record, though. Vilma Peguero, a cellist in the ensemble, said she didn’t feel any pressure to perform and felt safe the entire time. “The maestro was very on top of how we felt,” she said.

Peguero also said that she didn’t hear “any complaints about not being safe” from her fellow musicians. “Otherwise, they would have said no.”

Stewart Williams, president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147, which represents more than 1,300 musicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was not aware of this concert. “I hope that serious safety protocols were in place,” he said in a statement. “As musicians face the beginnings of returning to work, we are stressing to all our members to be cautious, and continue to take the threat seriously, and stay focused on everyone’s safety.”

The Rev. Robert Preece, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, said the board of elders of the parish permitted the event “as long as all the rules were applied,” adding that the concert followed the same safety precautions as the church’s Sunday services.

Tim Diovanni, Staff Writer. Tim Diovanni is reporting on classical music in a fellowship supported in part by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The News makes all editorial decisions.

tim.diovanni@dallasnews.com @howeyehearit
Arts & Life

Get the latest Arts & Entertainment

Catch up on North Texas' vibrant arts and culture community, delivered every Monday.

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy