Over a year of virtual classes and performances later, Bienen is back


Laya Neelakandan/Daily Senior Staffer

A Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra performance in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. After over a year of virtual performances, Bienen concerts are returning to the stage.

Katherine McDonnell, Reporter


After 21 months of masked classes and virtual performances, the Bienen School of Music is back on stage. For many students, this return marks the first live performance in their college careers.

Baroque Music Ensemble conductor and Bienen lecturer Stephen Alltop said the return to in-person concerts and classes will largely change how ensembles perform.

“The audience is essential to the musicians,” Alltop said. “They add an energy you can’t really get in virtual or pre-recorded performances.”

In place of live performances during the past year, Alltop’s ensemble had to remain masked and distanced with six cameras capturing audio and video, which Alltop said he later edited together to create pre-recorded performances.

For Alltop, getting to go back to conducting a live ensemble helps him create a stronger sound.

“I can just be a regular conductor,” Alltop said. “I can influence the sound and try to inspire them.”

SESP and Bienen sophomore Anna Chen agreed the return to in-person performances has been largely beneficial for the students.

Having never before performed live in a collegiate setting, the bassoon player said performing with the Chamber Orchestra was exciting for both students and audience members.

“All of us haven’t really performed for two years, so this performance was kind of a first for a lot of people,” Chen said. “It was a lot of fun to get playing again, especially in front of a live audience.”

Nélianne Warner, Chen’s friend and an audience member at last Thursday’s Chamber Orchestra performance, said seeing performances live changed the feeling of the concert.

The Weinberg sophomore never had the chance to see live collegiate performances last year, so she said she found the quality of the performance to be better than expected.

“This was the first in-person performance I’ve been to for Bienen and it was really good,” Warner said. “Anna and all the musicians did a great job, and the concert hall was better than I had expected.”

Despite most students feeling excited about the return to in-person performances, sophomore Naomi Aires, a member of Chamber Orchestra majoring in cello performance, pointed out some drawbacks to live performances. 

Live streaming performances last year meant Aires’ family could watch her concerts. But, overall, she said live performances remain her preference. While the livestream was convenient for her family, she said COVID-19 inhibited their goals, leading to both pros and cons.

Aires said the pandemic brought about restrictions in practice spaces that made finding time to practice alone more difficult.

Unlike last year, Aires now has the time and freedom to use practice rooms alone. She said this, coupled with a live audience, raises the quality of the musicians’ work.

“As a performer, you get more of an adrenaline rush when you can see the audience,” Aires said. “There’s a general sense of excitement and engagement you get with in-person performances that changes how you play — it can be hard to describe.”

Despite some drawbacks relating to livestreaming, Aires said many Bienen musicians are excited to be back on stage and are looking forward to the Chamber Orchestra’s future work.

“Come to our concerts,” Aires said. “Having you there changes how we play.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KatherineMcD33

Related Stories:

Bienen Prof. Yampolsky instructs and inspires in 38 years of teaching and conduction at NU

Bienen releases first of three videos in Black Composer Showcase series

Bienen hosts first in-person, walk-through performance on the Lakefill in over a year