Coronavirus Devastates Performing Arts Venues, Keeps Audiences Home

Janos Gereben on March 8, 2020

UPDATED March 14, 2020

No audiences in Davies Hall

Beyond the actual ravages of COVID-19, the worldwide response is intensified by reaction to more than the new coronavirus: it’s to the worst threat of all, fear of the unknown, as the virus is still little understood. As soon as more is known, the current wholesale community isolation will moderate, responses will be more appropriate, but for now, it feels at times overwhelming, and there are complaints of “overreaction.”

Late Friday night, a flurry of posts and emails informed thousands of San Francisco Bay Area artists, staff, and would-be audience members that performances by SF Symphony, SF Ballet, and others in the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center are canceled effective March 7, through at least two weeks (March 20), as announced by San Francisco Mayor London Breed. (On Wednesday, March 11, Mayor Breed announced that these cancellations will be extended through March 25.)

While internationally and nationally, cancellations and closures are announced hour by hour (see some prominent ones below), the local focus was the closure of facilities in the Civic Center.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s rendering of a novel coronavirus virion

People elsewhere — and many locals as well — may not realize the size of the impact of closures. The Performing Arts Center consists of:

* War Memorial Opera House (where the SF Ballet performs) – 3,126 seats
* Davies Symphony Hall – 2,739 seats
* Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall – three galleries, the largest serving as the venue for SF Symphony’s SoundBox concerts – approximate capacity is 600

In the Veterans Memorial:

* Herbst Theater – 928 seats
* Green Room – capacity up to 500
* Wilsey Center: Atrium Theater and the Education Studio – combined capacity about 500

It is in the Atrium that the Merola Opera Program was planning an event on March 11 — a free audience- and member-building concert, with program faculty and participants. All 300 available spaces were filled.

Merola Executive Director Jean Kellogg was chewing her nails as various news started circulating, until notified of closure Friday night. “Went into panic,” she told SFCV, “sent emails, made phone calls, but we can’t go into the office for the guest list until Monday, and only then can we notify everybody.”

An even greater concern Kellogg has is about Merola’s April 26 major fundraising in the Ritz Carlton, where 500 program supporters are expected to provide vital help for Merola. Far as that date is, nobody knows at this point how the virus crisis will shake out by then.

SF Ballet’s production of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream fell victim to the COVID-19 closures | Photo: Erik Tomasson, Illustration rendering: Sky Alsgaard

Some organizations are planning to stick with performances. “Subject to change,” these include Pocket Opera’s San Francisco performance of Don Giovanni and Livermore Valley Opera’s double-bill of Gianni Schicchi and A Florentine Tragedy.

In China, South Korea, and northern Italy, closures are the order of the day, canceling events in many venues. News develops so quickly that just a couple of days ago The New York Times reported that in California cautionary measures allow continuation of music, theater, and museum services. As of the time of this writing, the SF Symphony’s big European tour, beginning in two weeks, is still scheduled.

Locally, with 104 virus cases in California, including 64 in the Bay Area, school and other closures are announced in a constant stream. As of Saturday afternoon, the number of SF residents diagnosed with coronavirus jumped from 2 to 8, with 8,700 Californians in self-quarantine, and testing still in an initial state.

Additional cancellations as of March 14 include:

Venues and presenters

Freight & Salvage: Most concerts - March 12 – April 17
JCC East Bay: Closed to the public - March 16 – April 5
Lesher Center for the Arts: All performances - through March 25
Cal Performances: All performances - through March 29
San Francisco Conservatory of Music: All scheduled classes, lessons, and performances, with the exception of individual student recitals - through March 29
Center for New Music: Concerts and public events - through March 31
Green Music Center: All ticketed events - through March 31, Bang on a Can All-Stars - April 1, Bollywood Boulevard - April 11
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts: All performances - through March 31
Mondavi Center: All public events - through March 31
Presidio Theatre: All events - through March 31
San Francisco Performances: All concerts - through March 31
San Francisco State University: School of Music performances - through April 3
Community Music Center: Mission and Richmond branches closed - through April 5
SFJAZZ: All shows and education events - through April 5
Stanford Live: Most concerts - through April 15

Concerts, events, and performances

Left Coast Chamber Ensemble: “Fairytale Pieces” - March 8 and 9
San Francisco Choral Artists: “Joyful Voices, Stomping Feet” - March 8, 14, and 15
Mill Valley Philharmonic: 20th Anniversary Celebration concerts - March 11, 13, 15
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra: “Romantic Reflections” - March 11–15
RAWdance at ODC Theater: “Triple Take” - March 12–15
Peninsula Symphony: Violins of Hope concerts - March 13 and 14
Sacred and ProfaneLuminous Resonance - March 13 and 14
California Symphony: “Fate and Future” concerts - March 14 and 15
Chamber Music San Francisco: Quatuor Danel concerts - March 14–16, Rafal Blechacz concert - March 29
Crowden Music Center: Gala - March 14
San Francisco Boys Chorus: Gala performance - March 14 (postponed to May 16)
Avedis Chamber Music Series: Concert 3 - March 15
Berkeley Symphony: Chamber Series concert - March 15, Community concert - March 22, Symphonic Series concert - March 26
Music at Kohl Mansion: “A Beethoven Celebration” - March 15
Palo Alto Jazz Alliance: Return of the Six Jazz Masters - March 15
Pocket OperaDon Giovanni at Oshman Family JCC - March 15
Santa Rosa Symphony: Youth all-ensemble showcase concert - March 15, “Showcasing Contemporary Women” concerts - March 21–23
Sierra Chamber Music Society: Robert Sirota commission concert - March 15
Sunday Concerts at the Presidio: Anna Maria Mendieta concert - March 15
Zurich Beethoven Trio: “Hopeless Romantics” concerts - March 18–28
Ars Minerva: Quinquatria at the Italian Cultural Institute - March 19
Oakland Symphony: Brahms/Sphinx Virtuoso - March 20
Chora Nova: Marvelous Miniatures - March 21
Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts: David Russell concert - March 21
Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra: Verdi Requiem - March 21
San José Symphonic Choir: Vibrant Vienna - March 21
Steinway Society - The Bay Area: Alexander Sinchuk recital - March 21
Marin Symphony: Masterworks 3 concerts - March 21 and 22
San Francisco Ballet: Program 5 - March 24 – April 4, Program 6 - March 26 – April 5
Mission Dolores Basilica: Mary Jo Pagano concert - March 25 
San Francisco Gay Men’s ChorusPenned in Pink - March 26 and 28
American Bach Soloists: “Faire is the Heaven” - March 27–30
Fremont Symphony: Beethoven’s Fifth EXPLODED! - March 28 and 29
Chamber Music San Francisco: Rafal Blechacz - March 29
San José Chamber Orchestra: “Inferno” concert - March 29
Voci Women’s Vocal Ensemble: “Sacred Baroque” concerts - March 29 and April 4, “A Night at the Opera” - May 2
Voices of Music: “Bach and Buxtehude” - April 2, 3, and 5
Musica MarinA Taste of Tango - April 5
Opera San JoséThe Magic Flute - April 18 – May 3
Ragazzi Boys Chorus and Peninsula Girls Chorus: “Siblings in Song” - May 2

SFCV will continue to update this article as more cancellations come in.