The last Musical Moment of 2020 is a wave goodbye to a year of hardship. It’s also a nod of appreciation to the Star’s journalists, who have worked tirelessly to cover the COVID-19 pandemic.
Featuring 10 Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) musicians, a pre-recorded concert debuts to the Star and its readers Thursday. The concert, which featured the second movement of “Winter,” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” was recorded in the Star’s newsroom on Dec. 3.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the TSO and Toronto Star have collaborated on Musical Moments hoping to harness the power of music to inspire Star readers as they went through the exceptional coverage by the Star’s writers and editorial staff, and help our city get through this crisis.
Concertmaster Jonathan Crow leads nine TSO musicians in the delicate “Largo” from “Winter.” In Vivaldi’s own words this movement evokes the feeling of “spend[ing] happy and quiet days near the fire, while, outside, the rain soaks hundreds.”
The concert was a massive undertaking, one that involved maintaining proper health and safety protocols and physical distance — while also ensuring the musicians sounded their very best.
Star photographer Rick Madonik, who arranged video of the concert alongside Star photographer Steve Russell, estimated it took about 20 hours of work to set up and produce the show.
“We used seven or eight cameras, including (GoPros),” Madonik said. Since sound quality is paramount, Madonik helped to rig up a microphone on the ceiling, along with three backup audio systems in case it failed.
“It was the biggest challenge for sure,” he said. Since photographers think visually, Madonik and Russell spent time rearranging the newsroom to accommodate for distance but also to ensure that each musician was properly featured.
Seeing people in the newsroom after nine months away was a strange experience, Madonik said. “It was definitely different than our normal day-to-day life.”
The concert was recorded over several takes and edited together by Star video editor Kelsey Wilson who worked to produce the final piece alongside the TSO.
“There were tons of angles, so I tried to give every performer at least one clip focused on them,” she said. “It was really surreal seeing incredible, classically trained musicians playing beautifully in our ordinary looking newsroom just feet away from my desk.”
Star Visuals Editor Taras Slawnych, who conceived the Musical Moments features in April in an effort to help out the city’s arts industry, worked tirelessly alongside building management at 1 Yonge Street to ensure the show could go on as safely as possible.
For weeks, Slawnych and the building mapped out exactly how to keep everyone distant, he explained. “We brought … a measuring stick to make sure people were adequately spaced apart,” as well as a laser measure to help gauge where every musician would stand.
Maps of the newsroom were drawn up, and a cap of two people at a time in elevators was implemented.
“It was all very precision driven,” Slawnych said.
Sanitizer was provided to everyone involved in the process, with masks mandatory for all. Since the Star is an essential service, gathering limits do not apply, but the number of people present in the newsroom was kept to a minimum.
In a message to Star staff, TSO CEO Matthew Loden and music director Gustavo Gimeno wrote the paper’s “pages have illustrated the complexity of the pandemic’s impacts, the resilience of our city, and helped shape Toronto’s collective experience during these unprecedented days.”
The performance “is our way of thanking all of you,” Loden and Gimeno wrote. “We hope that it provides inspiration for the better days to come.”
Musical Moments will return in 2021.