Prelude to a Pandemic

Cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak has embraced the virtual concert experience. “This has been by most productive year, but at the same time it’s sad and frustrating,” he says.

Before a big concert weekend, Isaac Pastor-Chermak, a cellist for several symphony orchestras including Monterey Symphony, would receive his sheet music for the program about a month ahead of time. He’d practice alone for roughly five hours, then before the concert weekend, he’d have around four rehearsals with the entire orchestra.

Come the big weekend, nearby restaurants and other businesses would buzz with activity before the show. People donning their “concert clothes” would enjoy dinner at a restaurant nearby, maybe a glass of wine or two.

“The symphony was a cultural gathering point,” Pastor-Chermak says. “A symphony weekend would dominate arts and culture calendars for the week.” The buzz around a large musical performance, like those hosted by the symphony at Sunset Center in Carmel, would create what Pastor-Chermak calls a “ripple effect.”

So when the pandemic forced concert cancellations, there was a ripple effect too. “It’s not just the symphony that changes,” Pastor-Chermak says. “It’s all the businesses that make money because of the symphony. ”

That’s true for Pastor-Chermak as well. Based in Berkeley, he describes his symphonic musical career as “a good union job that made for a nice middle-class living.” With the pandemic, the old structure is gone.

This year, the work – from curation and production to the marketing and distribution – has mostly been on him.

He has followed the way of many working musicians, recording and streaming concerts. “It’s strange because now you’re not only the hired talent, you have to be the technical crew too,” he says.

Practicing is different too: “It is just you. The pressure rises by a factor of 10. There is nowhere to hide.” Gone are the days – at least for now – where Post-Chermak could practice for five hours individually and then head in to group rehearsals. Now he estimates that he practices pieces for at least 50 hours.

His next solo virtual gig is Thursday, Nov. 26, Thanksgiving Day. Part of the Monterey Symphony’s Balcony Series, it’s a farewell to outgoing musical director Max Bragado-Darman. Pastor-Chermak will play a program of Bach, Sibelius and Ligeti – his solo show will be recorded and livestreamed.

He has found some success in the classical music world gone digital. Most recently he was able to raise $6,000 from 150 people to record an album that he hopes will be available come Christmas. He’s finding that more people from all corners of the country are tuning in. “We have friends from Alaska and Florida watching – people who would never really attend your shows,” he says. “That is the one silver lining of the pandemic.”

Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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