The year that just won’t end has left many of us in desperate need of something that will raise our spirits, something to remind us that despite the stress currently circulating through the air, things will be okay. Luckily, the award-winning Texas Medical Center Orchestra (TMCO) has prescribed the perfect medicine with  its special virtual concert, “Love Can Move the World, this Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre. 

While this concert won’t be like any founder and Artistic Musical Director Libi Lebel has conducted in the past, the unexpected silver linings that have come from planning a performance during such an impactful time in history has proved to be rewarding for both Lebel and all those in her orchestra family. 

“In the beginning, we were like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We can’t come to weekly rehearsals, we can’t bring the whole orchestra, there’s a lot of worry about distancing,” says Lebel. “Our members use music as their relaxation, as their pure joy, so we have to be careful to protect that and not turn it into fear that someone is going to get sick.”

TMCO Artistic Director and Conductor Libi Lebel.

Because the TMCO members have had their lives turned upside down as medical professionals during COVID-19, Lebel knew she needed to craft an experience that was as uplifting and worry-free as possible. This not only meant slimming down the number of musicians, but also cutting rehearsal times (TMCO typically holds eight to 10 three-hour rehearsals leading up a concert; this time, it’s had just two) to ensure safety and proper social distancing. 

Working with fewer musicians, and not being able to bring in her planned 150 singers, meant Lebel had to abandon her initial plan of performing Beethoven’s titanic Ninth Symphony (the one featuring “Ode to Joy”) in honor of the famed composer’s 250th birthday. But she remained adamant about finding songs that would invoke similar themes of unity and brotherhood. So, when she came across Unity Church Pastor Michael Gott performing his personally written songs on YouTube, she knew she’d struck gold.  

“The minute I heard his songs, I was immediately overwhelmed with emotions,” says Lebel. “When I heard Michael’s voice I knew it was just one of those; it was angelic.” 

As a Juilliard School of Music grad with extensive conducting experience across the globe, Lebel isn’t exactly an easy music director to impress, so it says quite a bit that she almost immediately decided to incorporate Gott and his music into TMCO’s concert at Miller. And Lebel couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming performance, which thanks to Gott’s impassioned pieces, Amazing Things, Let Me Fall, and Heart of the World, is once again centered around themes of unity, love, healing, and hope, in light of all that’s happened in the past months.

  

Though the virtual format of this concert is new for the TMCO, spreading messages of hope and healing through music is something the group is familiar with. In fact, the musicians’ dedication to uplifting others through their shared passion is what led to their involvement in a worldwide movement that raised millions for the United Nation’s  Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. This spring, the Houston musicians joined more than 170 artists and musicians across six continents for a special rendition of Diane Warren’s Oscar-nominated song “I’m Standing With You.” 

The music video of the song, which was originally written for the 2019 film Breakthrough starring This Is Us’ Chrissy Metz, raised more than $7 million on YouTube (with Google matched that with an additional $5 million donation), and is now being considered for a Grammy nom. TMCO’s musicians won’t find out about the nomination until they’re announced on Nov 20, but that’s ok, they have a concert to focus on.

In spite of the adjustments Lebel and her music family have made to prepare, it’s been inspiring to see how far a love of their craft and a passion for connecting with others has taken them, especially under the most unusual of circumstances. 

“In music and in life, I always say we’re all people,” says Lebel. “That's what this concert is about.”

Nov 7. Free. Online. More info at milleroutdoortheatre.com.