The coronavirus situation is constantly changing. Many people’s plans have already been impacted by it, even though in Scotland, where I live, there are just a few cases at the moment.
In the past few days I’ve had several worried concert promoters on the phone about upcoming concerts. They are naturally concerned about the well-being of their audiences. Let’s face it: classical audiences are often on the more senior side. Organisers are afraid that their audiences will stay away out of anxiety. I’ve just had two concerts cancelled, and the promoters of others have indicated that they may be about to cancel too, if their Boards advise it.
If the promoter cancels the concert, they may feel a responsibility towards the musician, though in a case like this they may say it is ‘force majeure’ and therefore not something they are obliged to remedy. Promoters sometimes try to find a replacement date ‘next season’. Which is very nice, except that it means there will be no money this month. And if I can’t make the replacement date, I won’t get the fee next season either.
Non-musician friends are surprised to learn that freelance musicians (particularly non-orchestral players like soloists and chamber musicians) usually have to buy their own travel tickets ahead of time. Often there’s an inclusive fee, out of which the performer pays for their own travel. Most of us try to economise in order not to see too large a chunk of our fee disappear in travel costs. This means that we buy economy tickets, which are non-refundable.
Friends have said, ‘Don’t you have insurance against loss of earnings?’ but nobody I know has that kind of insurance. It’s just too expensive and complicated. I’ve heard the government outline various schemes to help this or that kind of worker through the crisis, but none of those schemes apply to freelance performers.
Whenever a concert is cancelled at short notice, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been practising elements of the programme, probably every day for weeks or months. It’s the weirdest feeling. I suppose it’s a bit like cooking a lovely dinner for someone who calls at the last minute to say they’re not coming.