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Beethoven performance at famed Edinburgh International Festival nixed after British choir refuses to wear COVID masks while singing, as requested by Philadelphia Orchestra

Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

The famed Edinburgh International Festival had to make a last-minute itinerary change this year because of demands made by the visiting Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Festival — scheduled to take place over eight days, starting this Sunday — had advertised that the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, the self-described "backbone of the International Festival’s choral programme," would pair up with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. However, due to concerns about the spread of COVID, the orchestra had requested that members of the chorus wear a mask during the performance.

As chorus members contribute to the performance exclusively by singing, the chorus refused to accommodate the request. Despite the chorus's refusal, the orchestra remained adamant.

"Our advisers at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that singing creates significantly wider and more distant spread of aerosols than speaking does," an orchestra spokesperson said, "and that masks reduce this spread of aerosols, and therefore the risks, dramatically."

Rather than submit to the mask demands, the chorus opted to bow out of the performance entirely. As an alternative, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony instead, as it does not require a choir accompaniment, an event organizer stated.

Though the spokesperson for the orchestra insisted that the group did not make the decision "lightly" and that it was merely acting "in the best interest of health and safety" of all involved, many festival ticketholders are disappointed.

"I was looking forward to going with my family, who are all diehard Remainers, to hear the 'Ode to Joy,'" said David Kemp, who claimed he has been attending the festival for at least a decade. "This last-minute change to Beethoven’s Fifth is very disappointing."

Jackie Bruce, who purchased 10 tickets for the event, agreed.

"This is absolutely potty," Bruce said. "How can a choir sing while masked?"

"I am sure the orchestra are all multiple vaccinated and so are the choir," she added, "so it is complete overkill."

The orchestra will perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony next Thursday, according to the itinerary released on the festival website. Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, known "for his charismatic music making and heart-on-sleeve emotion," will direct. The performance is expected to last an hour and ten minutes.

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