The University of Georgia Performing Arts Center hosted its first public performance since the venue closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday, Oct. 18, Atlanta’s Peachtree String Quartet played a program of movements from four of Beethoven’s string quartets in Hodgson Hall for a significantly reduced audience of 15 people. The 60-minute program featured program notes read by UGA piano professor David Fung.
The performance was also livestreamed to ticket buyers at home as part of Studio HH, the UGA Presents fall season of virtual programming.
The performance marked a significant milestone in the PAC’s efforts to carefully reintroduce live performance opportunities as part of campus and community life. In a traditional year, UGA Presents provides more than three dozen public and school performances by professional touring artists as part of its programming. Due to the pandemic, however, the venue’s ability to move forward in a traditional manner has been dramatically altered. The global touring industry came to a complete halt last spring due to travel and safety restrictions related to the spread of COVID-19. In order to mitigate the risk of illness while offering performances this fall, the PAC elected to engage local musicians to participate in a small number of live, limited-attendance events.
“In many ways, this was a monumental effort,” says PAC director Jeffrey Martin. “In these conditions, every decision we make has numerous implications that didn’t exist before. Because of this, we decided to be cautious in our approach. We are committed to the safety of our audiences, artists, and staff, and we believe we can move forward responsibly with the proper protocols in place. This performance provided us with the opportunity to put them into action.”
Over the course of the spring and summer, the facility’s staff developed extensive safety and cleaning protocols in conjunction with UGA leadership, custodial services, and industry experts. Among other things, Plexiglas dividers were installed at the concert hall doors and stickers were placed on the floor to promote social distancing. The venue also replaced all of the existing bathroom faucets and soap dispensers with touchless spouts and significantly reduced the capacity of the venue.
From the reaction of those who attended, the efforts appeared to pay off. “It was a delight to attend the live music performance by the Peachtree Quartet at the Performing Arts Center,” says local businessman and PAC advisory board member Brad Tucker. “In addition to the quality of the performance, the PAC staff had clearly gone to great lengths to protect the safety of attendees. I felt as comfortable as I would have in my own home. Thank you to the artists and to everyone at the Performing Arts Center who made the effort to make this concert possible.”
The four musicians, all highly esteemed members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, relished the opportunity to perform for an audience in an indoor venue. The quartet’s violinist, Christopher Pulgram, says, “Yang Yoon, Tommy, Sissi, and I were so happy to perform in front of a live audience in beautiful Hugh Hodgson Hall. Thank you to the University of Georgia for making this concert event happen. It was great to celebrate the music of Beethoven together. The entire production team welcomed us and made the whole experience a real pleasure.”
Concertgoer Marty Farnsworth agreed that this was a very special experience. “Thank you so much for the opportunity to attend an In-person, live, chamber music concert. I felt so safe, all the way through, thanks to the good work you all did to make sure we were appropriately distanced and safe. Even the musicians wore masks! Most of all, I felt like I had recovered a piece of myself!”
The PAC’s remaining live performances this fall take place Nov. 4-6 (violinist Itamar Zorman) and Dec. 10-11 (guitar trio Revien). Tickets and information can be found online at pac.uga.edu or by calling the Performing Arts Center Box Office at (706) 542-4400.