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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

REMOTE | Nurhan Arman: ‘Talent Is Inclusive!’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on June 12, 2020

Nurhan Arman
Nurhan Arman (Photo courtesy of the artist)

If you’re an Artistic Director in the performing arts, chances are this is going to be an especially busy summer for you. On top of all the necessary adjustments needed to make the 2020/2021 season possible — and more importantly, safe — arts leaders need to also take this time to reflect on the culture of their organization. Especially in light of the ongoing conversations about racial biases, the question of inclusivity and how that is manifested in diversity needs to be addressed by every arts organization in the GTA.

Sinfonia Toronto’s Music Director, Nurhan Arman, joins us for this episode of REMOTE to discuss some of the most challenging aspects of the upcoming 2020/2021 season. He talks about the measures that need to be taken, at the level of detail, in order for his ensemble to return to the stage this fall. He also talks about the specific ways in which Sinfonia Toronto has encouraged inclusivity, as well as the actions his organization will be taking in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

How have you been coping with this lockdown?

All musicians need to work in isolation some of the time, and this is even more so for conductors. To learn scores, one must spend many long hours in solitude and ideally in silence. I am used to working long stretches in isolation since I have been a conductor and artistic director for almost 40 years.

The lockdown has not changed much in my daily routine. I am still studying several hours a day preparing scores and editing parts for next season and going for occasional walks.

In April, I discovered a string quintet transcription of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. It was prepared and published in 1816, while Beethoven was still alive, by his publisher Sigmund Anton Seidler, so he must have approved of it. I have spent several weeks editing this and adapting it for Sinfonia Toronto because I know this symphony will be a fantastic way to return to making music again. Its four movements include an exuberant dance, an elegiac march to honour those lost, a scherzo full of playful life, and a triumphant, heroic finale we will dedicate to our health workers.

Time has generally been something always too short in my life before the pandemic and needed to be managed carefully. Suddenly now, like many of us, I find that I need to manage my time just as carefully. When you have too much time at hand, it can be tempting to be careless and fall behind.

I miss my Sinfonia Toronto colleagues, and I miss our concerts and audiences very much. Fortunately the internet makes our isolation easier. I communicate with colleagues and family on various apps.

How is Sinfonia Toronto adjusting its 2020/2021 season in response to the lockdown? Will the four concerts in the fall go on as scheduled?

Like everyone else, we are planning towards an unknown future. I know what a difficult task it must be for larger orchestras to function under physical distancing guidelines. It will not be difficult to adapt to the guidelines for Sinfonia Toronto. Our stage formation is highly flexible. Our musicians always perform standing up, except our two cellists, and always use individual music stands, and our orchestra’s size will make distancing easy.

We are taking great care regarding our audience’s safety. Our administration is coordinating with our venues Glenn Gould Studio and George Weston Recital Hall to ensure thorough protocols for sanitizing all areas, minimizing use of common areas and mapping out distanced seating. (Family members will still be able to sit together.)

We are also planning to launch next fall Sinfonia Toronto’s Virtual Concert Hall. Our plan is to perform both for a live audience and also stream our concerts. Audiences will have the choice to buy tickets to either one. In 2020-2021 we also have tours and run-out concerts scheduled within Ontario. In April, we had to postpone a Sault Ste-Marie concert. If all goes well we will open our new season on September 26 in Glenn Gould Studio and then fly to the Sault the next day and make good on the postponement.

Nurhan Arman (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Nurhan Arman (Photo courtesy of the artist)

What do you think some arts organizations have been doing right during this crisis? Any shining examples?

Now more than ever, I am happy and proud to be a musician and to be working with arts professionals. Arts workers are changing the way they work and function. Being naturally creative, as artists, we are used to working within chronic limitations and having to solve problems that pop up almost daily and sometimes hourly. Uncertainties have always been part of our milieu. Every show, every concert, every visual art exhibit depends on the public’s interest, and that is always a question mark.

Besides projects carried out by many of the world’s major institutions, I think the shining examples are individuals singing from balconies and all the groups creating ensemble performances online and live-streaming concerts from their living rooms. So much energy and dedication! Some of our Sinfonia Toronto musicians produced a great video without any outside help. They played Khachaturian’s Masquerade Waltz from their own homes, many kilometres apart, without a conductor, and managed the tech to produce the video all on their own. I am really proud of them.

Many musicians have quickly learned new technologies in order to express their art. There has been a lot of free streaming of music around the world. But my feeling about this is that it all needs to come to an end soon. For the 2020-2021 season we are all looking for new models of concerts with paid streaming being an essential income to be able to keep functioning. We can’t afford to give it all free for much longer.

What are you watching/listening to/reading at the moment?

In the early days of the lockdown I was depressed about our cancelled performances and needed some inspiration. I re-watched a number of documentaries about the creation, premiere and legacy of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony. Leningrad was under siege by the Nazis and the city’s population was dying of starvation. Any Leningrad Philharmonic musicians still alive were hardly able to lift their instruments. But it all came together in a triumphant performance. Anyone complaining about our social distancing should watch these documentaries.

At the moment I am reading a great book, Coffeeland, by Augustine Sedgewick. It’s an epic story of how coffee became one of the world’s most valuable commodities under global capitalism. I love coffee and am addicted to it, but this book may be curtailing my appetite. I am also just as addicted to so-called ‘auteur cinema’. Just about every night I am watching either a classic film on TCM or streaming a movie by a great international director. I receive an amazing amount of new recordings and scores as proposals for guest artists and new works. Going through many of these is stimulating. But I must confess that after spending hours on score preparation I don’t have much energy left to just listen for pleasure. Listening to music I love is a demanding activity. It’s always easy to listen to an early Mozart or Haydn but my preferences are for challenging works that require more mental energy.

With everything that’s going on in North America in regard to race and #BlackLivesMatter, what are some of the steps your organization will be taking to improve diversity amongst your performers, arts-workers, and your audience members?

I am proud to say that Sinfonia Toronto musicians really do represent Toronto. Talent is inclusive! In our current roster of 13 core musicians we have four visible minorities including a musician of colour and five immigrants. And our board and audience also reflect Toronto. #BlackLivesMatter is an inspiring movement which as artists we need to respond in our own fields. I am hoping to commission a few new works around this theme from Canadian composers of colour.

I just listened to Canadian musician/photographer Ed Nixon’s recording of Small’s Creek. He will use this recording as the soundtrack for a video he is preparing to memorialize George Floyd’s murder. We should welcome more works of art generated to inspire social change.

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook
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