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BOONE — Emerson String Quartet fans returned to Appalachian State University to see live music for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Two hundred eighty patrons sat, silent and socially-distanced, in Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts, as Emerson String Quartet took center stage Wednesday, July 7. It was the group’s first live performance in 16 months. More than 35 patrons purchased tickets to a private live stream of the event.

”Our chamber audience are a very loyal audience, they feel very passionately about it,” Allison West, director of marketing and public relations at Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts said.

The concert was the first in a series of orchestral concerts presented by Broyhill Chamber Series, put on by Appalachian State University’s Office of Arts & Cultural Programs for An Appalachian Summer Festival.

In the past, performances in this series were held in Rosen Concert Hall, a 440-seat venue well-suited for smaller orchestral performances.

”If we had done social distancing in that venue, we would’ve only been able to seat around 80 people,” West said.

To allow for social distancing Wednesday’s concert was held in Schaefer Center. The 1,673-seat auditorium was outfitted with a new acoustical shell to enhance the sound of so few instruments in such a large room.

The curved design of the shell reflects sound toward the audience, making a “world of difference,” West said.

Clark and Karen Havighurst, husband and wife from Raleigh, have been coming to the annual festival for more than 20 years. The two were thrilled to be back, despite the change in venue. It was the first concert they had been to in a year and a half, Karen Havighurst said.

”We’re sorry that conditions are still limiting, but it’s exciting to hear them again,” Clark Havighurst said.

Judy Morris sat front row for Wednesday night’s show. Morris has seen Emerson String Quartet six times in the pasts. The sound in the auditorium, she said, was noticeably different.

”A really big room swallows up a small group like this, but they’re one of the best string quartets in the world,” Morris said.

Emerson String Quartet’s encore performance, a rendition of “I Wonder Oft Past Yonder House,” received a standing ovation.

Canadian Brass, the next act in the Broyhill Chamber Series, will take the Schaefer Center stage for a sold-out show on Sunday, July 11.

This summer’s series is dedicated to the memory of Larry Freiman, who organizers of the festival say is a “generous and devoted supporter of An Appalachian Summer Festival’s classical music programming.

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