Savannah Philharmonic prep a reimagined season

Keitaro Harada chats from Tokyo about what to expect this year

AS IS the case with everyone in Savannah and beyond, the Philharmonic is smack dab in the middle of a very, very new normal. At a time when they would typically be preparing their annual Picnic In the Park event—which draws tens of thousands of attendees each year—the orchestra has had to pivot and figure out how to keep going amid a pandemic that continues to ravage the United States.

Thankfully, under the leadership of Keitaro Harada, the Philharmonic has made that happen. They’ve got a series of events coming up, some of which have been announced, that abide by every safety and health precaution possible in an effort to keep people safe while continuing to provide the great service of music to the people of Savannah.

“Just like anywhere else all around the world, everything got cancelled starting in March. And I think what we did was the smart moving of seeing how things pan out by the fall,” Harada tells Connect via phone from Tokyo, where he also conducts.

click to enlarge Keitaro Harada - PHOTO BY GEOFF L. JOHNSON
Photo by Geoff L. Johnson
Keitaro Harada

“As you look around and see what happened with other arts organizations in the U.S. especially, they made a lot of splashy announcements about concerts because they got nervous about revenue structures and income. And then come late August, they had to postpone or cancel everything. With a pandemic like this, we have to be very careful with making sure we’re able to perform. The safety of the audience is the most important thing.”

Harada instructed his staff not to rush into anything, and instead spend time seeking out every possible option for continuing forward with programming in some form or another. What they ended up with is a series of events that will be announced four weeks in advance, so as to give enough time to assess what’s happening in case changes need to be made.

One of the regular events on schedule, which is set to begin on October 1, is a concert series at Victory North. The shows will feature a pared down version of the Philharmonic, performing in the venue to a maximum capacity of 50 patrons. The show is titled “String Theory,” and tickets are on sale now with an option to purchase a virtual ticket for those who prefer to stay home.

“Victory North was a really good find in many ways. We’d just done a gala there in January. The owners are doctors, and my guess is that they were probably the first place in Savannah that really changed the air system and cleaning system so it’s safe for the audience,” Harada says.

“They were on the front lines of making sure that during this pandemic, people can still come to Victory North and come out of it beng safe. So we immediately wanted to do a partnership.”

Other events scheduled to begin in this reimagined season include a free concert series called Phil the Squares With Music. That event will take place on a balcony overlooking various squares throughout the city, and people are encouraged to watch and listen from their cars or as they walk by on the street.

As for the elephant in the room, so to speak, there will be a Picnic In the Park this year. It won’t be like any other in its history, however, and may very well be the only one of its kind to ever take place.

This year’s Picnic will be a pre-recorded concert that will be broadcast exclusively on WTOC—meaning it will reach an even wider audience than the 20,000 that typically attend the in-person event every year.

It will coincide with a Mask-A-Rade virtual costume contest during the show, in which viewers are encouraged to participate at home using a hashtag on Instagram.

That element, Harada says, was included after he realized Halloween will look extremely different for kids this year.

“I wanted to give a reason for children and families to dress up and decorate for Halloween. So we’ll be taping the show and broadcasting it on October 18, and the Orchestra members will be dressed up,” he explains.

“We’re encouraging people who’ll be watching to also dress up, and we want everyone to post photos from their home Halloween on social media. Then people can vote on their favorite costume or decoration, and we’ll give out prizes to the winner. It just brings everyone together and gives families something to look forward to.”

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