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WATCH: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs COVID tribute

Beginning with a single B flat, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is a piece of music often associated with mourning.

In a musical tribute to COVID victims on Jan. 17, as the national death toll approached 400,000, Washington state’s Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performed the sorrowful work inside a largely empty Skyview Concert Hall and for an audience online.

Guest conductor Sarah Ioannides spoke briefly before the performance, saying that Barber’s “Adagio” has become “one of the expressive outpourings in American music.”

“It is as meaningful today as it ever was, with its epic journey from quiet, soft passages of reflection to searing pain,” said Ioannides, music director of the nearby Symphony Tacoma. “But it ends on a note of hope and optimism reflecting today’s world.”

The classical work has been played at Albert Einstein’s funeral, in honor of President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated, and was broadcasted over the radio when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death was announced. Aside from also appearing throughout various film and TV projects, it also became a source of inspiration for electronic music producers.

Ioannides said the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s performance was dedicated to “all those who face suffering,” including families who have lost loved ones to the virus, “and also to the many who’ve gone out of their way to help others through the pandemic.”

Executive director Igor Shakhman said in an email that the “pandemic has been unyielding in its scope, in tragedy and loss.”

“We grieve for those who parted too soon and mourn with those who were left behind,” he added.

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