Q & A: Chair of the MET Orchestra Committee Brad Gemeinhardt on New Fundraising CampaignBy Francisco Salazar
Since the members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra were furloughed, the orchestra has launched a fundraising initiative in order to channel its energy into education and engagement through teaching and performing.
The fundraising campaign was created in order for the orchestra to be able to do outreach programs and to create new events and concerts during these times of COVID-19.
OperaWire spoke with Brad Gemeinhardt, who third Horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a Chair of the orchestra committee, about the fundraiser, the role of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin during these times, and the orchestra’s teaching initiatives.
OperaWire: Tell me about the fundraising campaign that has been set up for the MET Orchestra?
Brad Gemeinhardt: The fundraiser was set up back in 2015 but now is when we are really working on it so it can benefit the members of the orchestra. That task has been taken on by members of the orchestra. We’re all musicians and we have spent our life performing and learning to play music and having to shift gears has been an enormous amount of work to figure out how all this works and seeking the professional help that people have been generous to give us. So it has been inspiring to me and the orchestra.
OW: When the people donate to the campaign, is the money going directly to the orchestra members?
BG: All donations are tax-deductible and the money will support our various teaching and programming initiatives. For example, there are partnerships with several schools and there are a series of masterclasses online, among others. There was a performance across Lincoln Center and there will be more performances on our own moving forward. We are also looking at partnerships with nursing homes to perform remotely and many other events we are still trying to do.
OW: Are the musicians donating their time for these teaching initiatives?
BG: The musicians are donating their time and the idea to raise money for our non-profit is so that these initiatives can continue and ultimately in the future come back to benefit the musicians at some point. But that is in discussions at the moment. Everyone is donating their time.
OW: Tell me a little about the teaching initiatives and how they came about?
BG: We have set up a structure where there is a programming committee that started brainstorming for things that could be possible and then started reaching out to other organizations that could be interested. For example, a partnership with a school in Harlem started a series of classes with their students and there are other schools that they are looking at partnering with. The ideas come from members of the orchestra and through our various contacts. It is a very grassroots movement.
OW: What has the response to all your initiatives been?
BG: We have found that people are excited and there is quite a lot of interest in having the musicians of the MET orchestra collaborate in every way possible. There is a lot of energy behind it.
OW: What is the morale of the MET Orchestra at the moment and are these programs and initiatives keeping them energized?
BG: I would say it is really tough economically for all of us and we are furloughed from the Met and this is quite a boost to everyone’s morale because everyone is putting their energy into this type of outreach and connecting with our audience and new audiences as well as students. So this has been very helpful to everyone.
OW: What kind of other things has the orchestra committee had to deal with during this unprecedented time?
BG: One of the major things is dealing with the unemployment system. We were furloughed on March 31 and because of the millions of other people who were trying to collect unemployment, there was a significant backlog or I would describe the system as having broken down. Some people were able to collect unemployment without a problem.
The orchestra committee did a significant amount of work trying to get instructions out to people on how to collect unemployment. And even those who were doing all this research, it was very difficult and took several members months to finally receive their unemployment. It was something we never anticipated to have to deal with in this way. The system is finally up and running and we tried to do the best to figure out the system.
Another thing that we had to deal with is that certain members of our orchestra are here with visas so we had to deal with visa renewals and making sure that it was taken care of. If they had a visa expiring during the furlough, it creates issues. So it was something that the orchestra committee worked with the Met to ensure that we didn’t leave anyone behind.
Then there was also the nonprofit which we had to get off the ground. It was very quick but it has been many hours of research and work that has been done by many members.
OW: What kind of support and contact has Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin had with the orchestra?
BG: Yannick has been very communicative and very supportive. When this all started there was daily contact that I had with him and we spoke about quite a few issues that I had and trying to figure out how to navigate this. At the time it was really unknown and everyone was hoping it wouldn’t last that long. We didn’t know it would be like this.
But we worked immediately very closely with Yannick on many things like the Met at Home Gala, which was successful. He also sent video messages to the entire orchestra with words of encouragement in order to stay in contact. We had one of our orchestra members pass away from COVID and Yannick was in touch with us about that as we were all very upset about it. We have this programming committee and an artistic committee that is working with the Met management and Yannick has been very involved with them and we have discussed with him how we can all stay engaged with our audience and ways that can help support the members of the orchestra. So he is trying to help us with the fundraiser and we are incredibly lucky to have someone who cares and is as compassionate and dedicated to his orchestra.
OW: Outside of the initiatives that are being done, how have the orchestra musicians coped with the situation of not being able to perform, the emotional stress, and being furloughed?
BG: The interesting thing that I have heard from colleagues is that a lot of us are finding comfort and support for ourselves by playing our instruments. It is fascinating because we love to play music but when we are working we are constantly playing them and a lot of times in the summer vacation period, we look forward to taking a little bit of time off. But I am not finding that right now and I am finding that the best thing I can do for my mental health is to play French horn. And I have heard that from quite a few others.
OW: What do you miss most about performing at the Metropolitan Opera?
BG: I miss playing with the orchestra. I miss the sound of our orchestra. I miss the initial downbeats. I miss the way our orchestra plays because it is so inspiring and it has a warmth to the sound and a vocal quality that is so distinct. Even being in the rehearsal room is so inspiring and heartwarming to remember.
It makes me sad that we don’t know when we will be together again as a full orchestra.