A CLUTCH of influential orchestral conductors including the Halle’s Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Vasily Petrenko have written an open letter to The Times.

They plead for urgent government investment to ensure the survival of Britain’s renowned orchestras and opera companies.

Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera, and Glyndebourne’s cancellation of their autumn tours underlines the necessity for urgent government action.

The loss of several months of performances is devastating for the singers, musicians and stage crews alike. Many of them fall through the government’s financial safety net. It is also a further blow to the beleaguered hotels, pubs and restaurants that benefit from the buzz of the theatres.

Tickets are still selling for Opera North’s autumn season at Leeds Grand Theatre. Though whether any performances can actually take place depends on the reduction, and eventual removal of the two-metre rule. According to government advisor Professor Robert Dingwall from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Group (NERVTAG), the science supports one metres but not two. Said the sociology professor: the two-metre advice was “a rule of thumb, conjured up out of nowhere”.

Meanwhile, a galaxy of leading singers and chorus directors have published in the Guardian an appeal to religious leaders to speak out “so that we can make singing together in churches work for all”. The letter is signed by composer John Rutter, singer Dame Sarah Connolly, and Harry Christophers, choral director of The Sixteen. They refer to Britain’s vibrant world class choral scene and express fears for the future of our internationally acclaimed vocal ensembles, opera choruses and church choirs.

So just how great are the risks of transmitting Covid-19 through singing? New research from the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Aerodynamics in Munich finds that air is only set in motion within the immediate vicinity of the mouth - regardless of volume or pitch. The Munich study concludes that, within certain guidelines, singing in large halls or churches is relatively safe to resume.

The churches are now allowed to open, but for the time being they remain devoid of song. There is, however, no earthly reason for those most socially distanced of musical instruments, the splendid church organs, to stay silent.

by Geoffrey Mogridge