Organizers of the Lakes Area Music Festival announced Friday afternoon, Aug. 6, the remaining activities and performances of its 2021 season are canceled due to two positive COVID-19 tests among performers.

The final program of this year’s festival will stream live Friday night featuring a three-person baroque ensemble. The festival reported two of those performers are a couple, all three are able to perform masked without anyone else in the room and all tested negative for COVID-19 as of Friday.

In an email to supporters and ticket holders, Scott Lykins, artistic and executive director of the festival, expressed deep regret over the decision, noting a number of precautions were in place to reduce the chances of coronavirus transmission. All performers were vaccinated, organizers reported, including those who tested positive.


"For many of our musicians, wearing a mask while they perform is an option. However, for woodwinds, brass and singers, it’s just not something that is feasible to do."

— Scott Lykins, artistic and executive director


“Last week, our season began with optimism and enthusiasm. We were confident in our return to live performances with the knowledge that all of our artists are vaccinated and 98% of ticket holders reported vaccination,” Lykins wrote. “As research about COVID-19, its variants, and breakthrough cases continues to evolve, we have adjusted our safety plans including: a mask requirement for our artists and audience; daily rapid testing for all artists; and hiring a full-time COVID compliance officer to navigate, develop, and implement these changes.

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“Unfortunately, two of our artists have tested positive for COVID.

“Therefore, it is with deep regret and with the safety of our LAMF community in mind that we must cancel all remaining activities of our 2021 season.”

Christian Reif, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and music director of that Symphony’s youth orchestra, conducts a Lakes Area Music Festival concert in 2017. 
Contributed
Christian Reif, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and music director of that Symphony’s youth orchestra, conducts a Lakes Area Music Festival concert in 2017. Contributed

The festival, in its 12th season, performed its concert series in 2020 in an entirely virtual format. This year marked a return to in-person performances in a new performance space, Brainerd’s Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Events were set to run through Aug. 22, and plans called for each event to be livestreamed as well for those unable or uncomfortable with attending in person.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Lykins said continuing the festival via livestream — even without live audiences — did not appear feasible, leading to the difficult decision to cancel.

“The connection of our organization and our musicians to this community has always been at the forefront of our minds when we prepare our season,” Lykins said. “Our musicians stay with host families, they eat at local restaurants, they support local businesses. And they do what everyone loves to do here in town, which is take advantage of what the Brainerd lakes area has to offer.

Gemma New conducts while Francesca Anderegg plays the violin during the world-premiere performance of "Vestida de mar" by Reinaldo Moya Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, during the Lakes Area Music Festival's concert "Shaker Loops" at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
Gemma New conducts while Francesca Anderegg plays the violin during the world-premiere performance of "Vestida de mar" by Reinaldo Moya Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, during the Lakes Area Music Festival's concert "Shaker Loops" at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“Because of that, even if they were the only ones in the performance hall, there would still be risk. … Also by having musicians all on stage at the same time, some of whom cannot wear a mask to carry out their craft, we can’t ensure safety for those unmasked people, should someone be infected.”

Lykins said with the festival in the midst of its season, some musicians were already in the area. Those who drove here were able to return home and quarantine. Others who arrived from more distant locales will stay in town under quarantine and will continue to be tested for a period of time, assuring negative results before any traveling.


"Our musicians stay with host families, they eat at local restaurants, they support local businesses. And they do what everyone loves to do here in town, which is take advantage of what the Brainerd lakes area has to offer. Because of that, even if they were the only ones in the performance hall, there would still be risk."

— Scott Lykins, artistic and executive director, Lakes Area Music Festival


The fast-changing science of what is known about the delta variant of COVID-19 meant organizers were forced to pivot mid-festival, amid an already challenging environment in terms of a virus transmitted by air.

“We know that wearing a mask in public is incredibly important to stop the spread of the virus. For many of our musicians, wearing a mask while they perform is an option. However, for woodwinds, brass and singers, it’s just not something that is feasible to do,” Lykins said. “Because of that, and because of the nature of a live performance and the intimate connections made … it would require even more protocols and significantly more time to address those concerns than we had this time on short notice.”

In his email to patrons, Lykins noted the organization would continue to be transparent about the decision and any ongoing health concerns.

A dancer from the St. Paul Ballet performs Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, during a Lakes Area Music Festival concert at the Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. The festival will continue through Aug. 26. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
A dancer from the St. Paul Ballet performs Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, during a Lakes Area Music Festival concert at the Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. The festival will continue through Aug. 26. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“We know this news raises a lot of questions, and we honor our commitment to transparency by providing as many answers as we can when they are available,” the email stated.

Lykins said the organization was already planning a robust winter performance season at the arts center, and it’s likely many of the events planned as part of the summer festival will eventually make an appearance.

“We were incredibly proud of the season that we had come up with to perform this year. And we know that many of those highlights that we weren't able to do this year, will appear on programs in the coming years,” Lykins said by phone.

Organizers have said the festival is one of the fastest-growing summer music festivals in the country, drawing 200 artists from the nation’s best orchestras and opera companies each season. A typical season includes nearly a month of chamber music, orchestra, opera and ballet produced in downtown Brainerd.


"We were incredibly proud of the season that we had come up with to perform this year. And we know that many of those highlights that we weren't able to do this year, will appear on programs in the coming years."

— Scott Lykins, artistic and executive director, Lakes Area Music Festival


Each performance is free to attend and has donation-based admission. Lykins said in light of the cancellation, organizers are willing to work with patrons who made donations.

“Rather than charge for tickets, our organization makes its programs accessible to everyone by inviting attendees to make a donation instead of having a set fee,” Lykins said. “This season, we know many generous patrons made a donation when they reserved their tickets. And it’s those donations that help us continue on year after year, long into the future. … This is obviously a difficult time for our organization, and the financial support of so many is crucial. But we understand and will handle all requests regarding donations.”



CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.