The streets of Madison are abnormally quiet for this time of year as the normally packed Madison Early Music Festival has been forced to transition to an online format.
The festival, which focuses on performances of and lectures about music written prior to 1850, was in its final stages of planning before the news broke that it would not take place as scheduled due to the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 changed everything,” Administrator of MEMF Cheryl Bensman-Rowe said. “Everything was ready to go. The concert series was already being publicized, the brochure was printed, registration for classes was about to open and tickets for the performances were about to be sold at the Union Box Office.”
MEMF is currently in its twenty-first season and has enjoyed a high volume of fans and performers alike throughout its lengthy run.
As Bensman-Rowe explains, the appeal of the festival performances lies in its smaller, quieter ensembles.
“We planned the first festival as a concert series and workshop for students ages 18 through 90 and we were delighted that the festival became a great success!” Bensman Rowe said. “There is a very loyal fan base … audiences who love chamber music are very enamored with the intimacy of the smaller and often virtuosic ensembles.”
Though performances and lectures can still take place virtually, Bensman-Rowe admits this is not the result MEMF organizers were hoping for.
Bensman-Rowe said the situation is difficult for both the performers and the potential attendees.
“So much of what we do is created by being together in person as a community,” Bensman-Rowe said. “Anyone who has sung in a choir, played in a band or orchestra or attended a live concert understands how these experiences are so gratifying.”
The decision to cancel the festival took a heavy toll on organizers and musicians alike as both will now be without the much-needed income the festival provides, Bensman-Rowe said.
The cancellation has not ruined the concert entirely, however, as performances and lectures are still being hosted on the event’s Facebook page.
Using the site’s premiere feature, prerecorded performance videos from different artists are released each night at 7 p.m., when they would normally take place in person. Lectures will also continue to take place at their scheduled times through live streaming.
Madison’s Early Music Festival will also lack its concluding concert this year, which is a collaboration between educators and festival attendees to rehearse a piece of early music to be performed at the end of the week.
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While this turn of events is far from what MEMF fans expected, Bensman-Rowe said she is hopeful for a return to normalcy by the next festival.
“We’ve had a lot of interest [in] MEMF Online,” Bensman-Rowe said. “But we are looking forward to being MEMF Offline in the future, hopefully in 2021!”