As the news of the rapid surge of COVID Omicron cases spread in the 10 days before Christmas, Henley Symphony Orchestra was faced with a dilemma. The orchestra was planning a community event for Henley – to perform 2 concerts on Saturday 18 December in Christ Church in the centre of Henley:
- a Christmas concert aimed at young children aged 2 – 6, lasting just 40 minutes to match their attention span. Children were encouraged to bring their own shakers and bells to join in Jingle Bells and other Christmas carols, and
- a Christmas concert for all the family with a selection of popular works, such as Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, and some favourite carols. A highlight of the concert was to be the solo by the orchestra’s own Jasmine Huxtable-Wright of Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe. The concert was due to be followed by mulled wine, soft drinks and minced pies.
Before starting their last rehearsal on Thursday 16 December, the orchestra debated whether the concerts could go ahead without causing a risk of spreading COVID among the audience and their own players just a week before Christmas. Having discussed possible mitigations, the orchestra decided reluctantly that they needed to cancel both performances.
The orchestra next faced the task over the following day of contacting all those people to whom they had so recently sold tickets to ensure they did not turn up to be disappointed by the lack of concert. The Henley Herald carried this information on its website, as did the HSO’s website and social media, but personal phone calls and emails were essential. On Saturday afternoon, Judy Whittaker, Chairman of the HSO, waited outside Christ Church for the hour before the planned concert, and was delighted to find that she was alone – no disappointed concert goers turned up!
The financial impact of these cancellations is considerable – HSO will need to dig deep into its reserves as the orchestra estimates that the cost may be over £3,000, whereas normally these Christmas concerts allow the orchestra to make a small surplus. Potential members of audience were very sympathetic and many of them generously donated the cost of their tickets back to the orchestra. Quite apart from the financial loss, members of the HSO have put in many hours in practising, rehearsing and marketing the concert, and so regret having to disappoint their audience by cancelling this festive event.
The orchestra is hoping that the surge in infections will have subsided by early in the New Year, and that it will be able to go ahead with its planned concert on Sunday 13 March, 2022. This is a special concert, because HSO plans to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Hexagon in Reading, and has invited members of the Henley Choral Society, the Reading Bach Choir and the Glass Ensemble to join it in the 4th movement to sing Ode to Joy.