Jefferson Center had big plans for its 20th season. COVID-19 wrecked plans everywhere.
The venue is instead presenting a virtual series called “Listen Now. Gather Later.” Six concerts, pre-recorded in the building’s Shaftman Performance and Fostek halls, will feature a mix of classical, jazz, opera, pop and Americana performers, each playing for about an hour.
Internationally noted jazz singer Rene Marie, a former Roanoke resident, will kick off the series on Oct. 20. Washington, D.C.-based Americana/folksters Bumper Jacksons’ show will close the series on Nov. 24.
But it’s not a live-streaming series, and ticket buyers can access the shows whenever they want, for what Jefferson Center’s executive director, Cyrus Pace, said is the best music the venue could find in three states.
“This isn’t like, hey everybody tune in at 7 o’ clock on a Friday,” Pace said. “Some people might wait until the holidays, when they’ve got more time.”
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The organization’s annual presentations — the Star City Series, the Jazz Series and Jazz Club at Jefferson Center — don’t typically include classical concerts. But Shaftman Hall annually hosts Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Opera Roanoke performances.
In that spirit, Kandinsky Trio cellist Alan Weinstein is teaming with a Virginia Tech faculty colleague, pianist Hsaing Tu, for a classical performance that drops online Oct. 27. Amici Musicorum, an RSO and Opera Roanoke collective that formed to pay tribute to the late RSO horn player Rodney Overstreet, will have a show released on Nov. 10.
“Even though we can’t host the Roanoke Symphony or Opera Roanoke during this time, we wanted to still figure out a way to present classical music and make sure that was a continued part of our brand … and stay relevant in that way,” Pace said.
Marie, whose time in Roanoke included singing jazz in nightspots with Pace on guitar, returns to the Jeff with a pianist and a bassist. Greensboro, North Carolina, sax man Chad Eby, who has led studies at the Jefferson Center Jazz Institute, will perform with another Greensboro player, pianist and singer Ariel Pocock, on a Nov. 3 release.
Singer Jayna Brown, who as a 12-year-old performed in the “Family Dinner” project at Shaftman, with Snarky Puppy, will lead a small band in a set that goes online Nov. 17.
Brown, 19, and Bumper Jacksons will do an educational outreach to Music Lab at Jefferson Center students, as well, Pace said.
“We’re also planning to make all of the content free for public school educators and students,” he said. “We’ll provide ways for them to share” with students.
Each show will be $10, and all six together will be $54.
“We want it to have that live feel,” Pace said. “It won’t be perfect. We still know there’s nothing that can replace the human experience of being in a room with other people, listening to great art, to great music. Digital programming is never going to replace that, but we hope that this is an … equally important and artistic substitution for what we generally are doing on our stages at Jefferson Center.”
This is the nonprofit’s best way to provide content for now, while giving audience members a means to support the venue, he said. The Jeff’s “Give Now. Gather Later” fundraising program continues.
“We’re also going to continue to talk about the fact that there couldn’t possibly be a better time to also donate to Jefferson Center,” he said, “because it’s going to take both for us to be able to bridge through to the time upon which we can come back and do what we do in full.”