PORTLAND, Maine — Kallie Ciechomski’s life as a professional musician in New York City chamber orchestras has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 32-year-old violist left New York City in mid-March, as the coronavirus took hold of the East Coast, shutting down indoor concerts and suspending operations at performing arts institutions.
As summer draws to a close, the outlook for artists performing on their typical stages looks no brighter than it did in the spring. In a typical year, Ciechomski performs regularly with orchestras for the New York City Ballet, New York City Opera and International Contemporary Ensemble, and spearheads an ongoing project called Feminist Counterpoint, which focuses on contemporary classical and experimental music from women, trans and nonbinary performers.
A self-described “reckless optimist,” Ciechomski is ready to play music again. She’s now back in Portland — where she grew up — and has put together a vision of classical music in the pandemic era. It’s ready for a socially distanced public audience this week.
With a program she curated that features nearly a dozen Maine chamber musicians, Ciechomski is putting on a concert fashioned as a public outdoor art installation. Titled “Vigorous Tenderness: A Fall Equinox Concert,” it’s scheduled to take place Tuesday evening at Fort Williams, a town park in Cape Elizabeth that she roamed when she was a kid.
Patrons are encouraged to show up wearing masks anytime during the concert’s 90-minute window and bounce between a network of solo artists and ensembles playing classical music at locations throughout the historic fort.
While she fully supports the need for restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, Ciechomski is worried about the future of music, especially after arts institutions have suffered widespread revenue loss since shutdowns began. For her, the concert at Fort Williams opens multiple paths forward, the first being a way that people can safely experience music in a live setting.
“I’ve been extremely unsatisfied with the idea that music can only happen over the internet, and that we’re really only going to be hearing sound out of our phones and computers,” Ciechomski said.
The live concert also enables Ciechomski to implement some visionary tweaks. In New York, the violist oftens finds herself in prestigious orchestras playing canonical music for upscale audiences. Here, she can “decolonize classical music,” appreciating the form while expanding its diversity and accessibility.
“It’s always been weird to me to sit in the pit of the New York City Ballet thinking the people who are sitting in the audience pay like $1,000 to [attend] this event,” Ciechomski said. “It’s really important to me right now to program in a different way than classical music has been programming for hundreds of years.”
The program for “Vigorous Tenderness,” which Ciechomski curated, includes many queer, trans and non-binary artists, and artists of color, including contemporary New York composers such as Yaz Lancaster, inti figgis-vizueta and Caroline Shaw.
“We have one token straight white male for the sake of diversity. That would be Johann Sebastian Bach,” Ciechomski said.
“Vigorous Tenderness: A Fall Equinox Concert,” takes place between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Williams Park. Attendees at the free outdoor concert are encouraged to wear masks and arrive anytime in the 90-minute block. Musicians will be playing at seven different locations at the fort, and audiences can guide themselves through the installation at their own pace.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the location and ownership of Fort Williams Park.