Melbourne Symphony Orchestra principal conductor in residence Ben Northey accepts it's unlikely he'll front an orchestra and make music again this year.
Even if COVID restrictions do ease later this month, it's unlikely they will allow an orchestra full of musicians to gather in one room.
"My diary for the entire year was wall to wall with no free weeks, now I'm looking at potentially not working again this year ... and I haven't worked for about six weeks," the Ballarat-trained maestro said.
While he has had offers to work elsewhere, the length of time required in quarantine at either end of an interstate or international job plus the time required to be elsewhere would be too much time away from his family and, with two young children home schooling, too much pressure on wife Joanne.
But he admits he's been luckier than most, working solidly through the first half of the year and having recently re-signed as principal conductor in residence of the MSO for another two years.
"Looking back on the first six months of 2021 it was flat out and I did a year's work in that time, but I'm resigned to the fact I might not make any music between now and 2022. We hope 2022 is different to 2021, but we hoped that about 2021 being different from 2020."
It's been a long relationship with the MSO, having made his professional debut conducting the MSO in 2003 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Last month Mr Northey was also nominated for the 2021 Limelight Artist of the Year Award, after which he paid tribute to all musicians and performers struggling through COVID lockdowns.
"There's absolutely nothing going on now. We can'd do anything in the current lockdown arrangements ... which are much harsher than the last," he said.
"I've heard more artists talk about mental health this time and I think a lot of that is because they are unable to play.
"One of the French horn players can't really practice the French horn at home in a room at full volume - it has be in a bigger space so he's been going down and playing in one of the gates in the MCG and that did wonders for his mental health."
The orchestra has considered moving interstate for a period and doing two weeks of quarantine, but rapidly changing border restrictions and exemptions requirements from various states have made that idea impossible.
"What people need to understand about performing artists, entertainers and the arts industry is that even when lockdown finishes, it doesn't really finish for the arts because there's always gradual easing of restrictions.
"Even when these restrictions ease, they're not going to ease for public events straight away - the impact will be much longer in the performing arts."
The last work Mr Northey did for the MSO was a week of rehearsals after Melbourne's fifth lockdown that was supposed to culminate in a performance for an audience of 100 people, the maximum capacity allowed. But on the final day of rehearsal, lockdown six was announced and the concert was cancelled.
In an industry where most musicians are not salary-employed, instead working as sole traders relying on income from contracts, it's been an incredibly tough 18 months with many talented musicians and performers leaving the industry to retrain and get more stable employment..
"It's a really hard-hit sector ... with people questioning their existence in the arts and deciding to retrain to do something else. To be fair that was happening before COVID, arts is always in crisis, always on the edge, but there were success stories ... but now that has been removed and it makes the entire equation unsustainable."
Mr Northey has kept himself busy during lockdown, helping home school his children, countless remote meetings to help Christchurch Orchestra, where he is chief conductor, launch its season for next year working, and regular spots on ABC radio talking about the importance of people's connection with music.
He also hosts the popular online series Up Late with Ben Northey.
"I'm trying to keep music in the public sphere, which is really important ... and there's always things to do but it's difficult not performing, that's the big thing for me. The novelty of having a break is long gone."
During lockdown, Mr Northey said the decision to renew his contract was one of the easiest he's had to make.
"While I've conducted orchestras around the globe, Melbourne remains my spiritual home and the MSO, my extended family.
"Since my early days growing up in Ballarat to international appearances with the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, I have remained a proud Victorian, committed to sharing the power and magic of orchestral music with our wonderful audiences. I'm excited to have the opportunity to work alongside our musicians, the management team and our brilliant new Chief Conductor Jaime Martin as the MSO seeks to navigate a pathway through this challenging time for the arts."
He said this latest lockdown seemed different to all those that had come before.
I'm trying to keep music in the public sphere, which is really important ... and there's always things to do but it's difficult not performing, that's the big thing for me. The novelty of having a break is long gone.
"We are so limited in what we can do it's difficult to stay motivated as musicians, to keep preparing for concerts that may never happen, to keep your skills up not knowing when we'll be able to play again."
When the music does eventually start playing again, Mr Northey says it will likely be with a raft of safety measures to protect audiences and musicians.
And he expects crowds to be more eager than ever to reconnect.
"Safety measures will change the face of the experience of performing. Proof of vaccination, negative tests before going in to the venue for both performers and audience, that will all probably be in place."
When Mr Northey and the orchestra were able to travel within Victoria and interstate in the early months of the year, he noticed the gusto that audiences showed in welcoming back live performance.
"Going around Australia, the sheer number of people turning up to those concerts in the open sites - there was increased connection and demand for live music and the arts so that's encouraging for when it does come back," he said.
"When people are in crisis they turn to arts and arts experiences that are greater than the reality of what's happening," he said.
"When the orchestra start playing earlier this year in Melbourne people were slower to get back because of long period of lockdown last year and habits ... but I think now the vaccine rollout has finally started to get significant uptake and roll out in a bigger way, hopefully that will change for 2022 and it will make a big difference as we go in to the new year."
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