Devin Patrick Hughes: Innovation Kept the Orchestra Alive During the Pandemic
When its performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, and Splinter, by Composer-in-Residence Jack Frerer, were canceled at the beginning of the pandemic, the Arapahoe Philharmonic kicked into high gear. The canceled events were more than just concerts – one would have featured the orchestra’s concerto competition winner Ethan Blake on the Bloch concerto. The performance of Frerer’s piece had even more profound societal importance. The piece was written to raise awareness of gun violence in our schools and was a tribute to the Colorado STEM school shooting victim. The orchestra’s community needed these types of events.
“We did everything we could to re-engage with all of our communities, our musicians, our school partners, our patrons, and stakeholders immediately,” remembers Music Director and Conductor Devin Patrick Hughes. “We asked, ‘what does our community need from the orchestra at this moment in time?’”
Devin Patrick Hughes, along with musicians on the board and leaders in the orchestra, created a Music Connects series. They hosted virtual performances by orchestra musicians and performing artists in the community, along with masterclasses and interviews, one with former Arapahoe Philharmonic Composer-in-Residence Jonathan Bingham. The orchestra also broadcast past performances captured on video, with introductions and interactive Q&A segments with online viewers. These virtual events helped to raise money to keep the orchestra afloat.
“Pretty quickly after the pandemic started and the weather improved, we immediately began exploring how we could do live performances safely in outdoor spaces,” said Hughes.
The Arapahoe Philharmonic began Brass in the Park-ing Lot shows, pop-up performances at churches, schools, shopping malls, and other non-traditional spaces. Patrons could pull up, park their cars, enjoy a live concert, and connect with the conductor and musicians. The orchestra also partnered with restaurants like Brightmarten to create outdoor performances and dinners where the menu matched the musical material for the evening.
As the Fall approached, the Arapahoe Philharmonic consulted with safety experts and scientists to begin indoor, in-person performances. The orchestra also created a high-quality streaming option for those who chose not to attend live performances.
“We were lucky to continue and expand on the orchestra’s mission to engage, enrich, and inspire by presenting symphonic classics as well as showcasing works by living composers. We were very fortunate to showcase underrepresented artists such as Julia Wolfe, Jenni Brandon, Barbara Harbach, and Jessie Montgomery and present classic works of Antonín Dvořák, Aaron Copland, and Mozart. We also presented our annual Discovery concert, which featured stories, a play within a concert, and music of all kinds, from Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi to Lil Nas X, Metallica, Harry Potter, and other fun pieces for kids. We also collaborated with groups like Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and Breckenridge Brewery. The finale of our mini-season, which took place from November of 2020 until July 4, 2021, resulted in the first-ever sold-out concert in Arapahoe Philharmonic history, with patriotic tunes, music; from American movies and video games, and fireworks!”
The board, musicians, and staff transformed the organization into one that could thrive during and after the pandemic. With sustainability at its core, the Arapahoe Phil raised its artistic standards, and in doing so, it is emerging from these unprecedented challenges more robust than ever before.