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Mainly Mozart’s drive-in concerts help it ‘stay true to our mission’ during the pandemic

Mainly Mozart kicks off its Festival of Orchestras on Feb. 10 with a drive-in format at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Mainly Mozart kicks off its Festival of Orchestras on Wednesday, Feb. 10, with a drive-in format at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
(Courtesy)

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In the past year, when most arts programs hastened to innovate with online programming, Mainly Mozart refused to give up the benefits of live performance.

That effort can be seen in the company’s Festival of Orchestras, which begins this month.

“It was so clear that we needed to keep doing what we were doing. It was the right thing to do,” said Nancy Laturno, chief executive of Mainly Mozart, which she founded in 1989.

For 32 years, Mainly Mozart has produced concerts that feature “the top orchestral musicians from the top orchestras around the U.S. on a single stage. So that makes us unique,” Laturno said.

Mainly Mozart also performs chamber music in La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe and Carlsbad. “We have an almost 300-member youth orchestra,” among other programs, Laturno said.

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t change the company’s focus. “We made a decision early on to stay true to our mission through live performance. We’re a performing arts organization,” Laturno said.

In July, Mainly Mozart produced a drive-in concert in an overflow parking lot at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The concert became a series. “By October, we had turned it into a huge professional stage with an LED screen and beautiful washes of light, and we were selling out,” Laturno said.

“It made us the first in the nation to produce live classical music for a live audience during COVID,” she said. “We’ve been recognized [before] for artistic excellence; now all of these national publications are recognizing Mainly Mozart for its innovations through COVID.”

Continuing to perform live music helps the organization “stay as true as we can to what really feeds people, to what we were born to do,” Laturno said. “Even if we have to do a single cello for an audience of five, let’s do that rather than putting all of our energies into online [performing].”

Mainly Mozart will further its mission this year with the drive-in Festival of Orchestras, which begins Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds combining the musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony.

The musicians have been paired together “for the first time ever to form an orchestra,” Laturno said. Performances also will run Feb. 13-14.

The concerts have a 300-car capacity. Tickets are $49 for general admission and $100 for the A section. The first four rows are dedicated to Club Amadeus annual members; memberships start at $500.

The Festival of Orchestras will continue April 15-18, pairing musicians from New York’s Metropolitan Orchestra and Washington, D.C.'s National Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts will be intermission-free and will feature charcuterie boxes for sale, although participants are welcome to bring their own food and drinks, Laturno said.

Attending a drive-in concert still provides “much connection,” she said. “Even though you don’t get out of your car [and] you honk your horn or flash your lights to applaud, there’s still somebody in a car 10 feet away from you and you’re still experiencing in real time the same thing. You’re still sharing it with everyone in the audience, whether you are sitting shoulder to shoulder or not.”

The concerts also help “break the quarantine fatigue,” Laturno said. “The music just makes you hopeful. ... People are isolated; people need the healing and uniting power of music more today than we ever have.”

She said the organization has increased its budget by 30 percent during the pandemic. “I don’t know of anyone else who has increased their artistic performing presence” during that time, she said.

Laturno said she’s grateful to Mainly Mozart’s donors, noting that tickets cover only about 10 percent of the cost of each concert during the pandemic.

“There have to be contributions,” she said. “We’re doing it because we believe that the public ... will donate. Without donations, we will fail.”

Producing concerts in a COVID-safe environment is a nod to Mainly Mozart’s tradition of adaptability, Laturno said. “In a performing arts organization, unexpected things happen because it’s moving parts. But not like this.”

“Every single rule has changed,” she said. Stages have to be larger to account for distance among performers. Additional funds are needed for coronavirus testing and face masks. Accommodations must be made for performing in the cold, such as space heaters at performers’ feet and hand warmers to keep musicians’ fingers nimble.

“COVID has completely changed what we knew about ourselves and our industry,” Laturno said. The challenge is to “move fast enough to stay ahead of the things you could not possibly anticipate.”

Laturno said Mainly Mozart is up to that challenge. “Keeping live music alive is what matters,” she said. “We’re doing something really important.”

To buy tickets for Mainly Mozart’s Festival of Orchestras, visit mainlymozart.org/festival-of-orchestras.

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