One day, exquisite music suffused the air of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the next, only silence filled the thousands of empty seats. No queues formed beneath the building’s iconic Portland sign. It was not a pause signaled by a wave of the conductor's baton, nor did it follow a dramatic outro. There was applause, but not to show raucous approval for another incredible performance. Instead, the cheering echoed on the streets outside as the public demonstrated their support for health care workers battling the pandemic.
“It’s tough when you’re trying to find a way forward for the performing arts that have been hobbled across the sector,” explains Scott Showalter, president and CEO of the Oregon Symphony. “It’s not just a matter of audience social distancing; you can't have woodwind and brass players perform at all when there are certain limitations and health concerns.”
The curtains were closed to keep musicians and listeners safe, but after a very long intermission, the oldest orchestra in the western United States is ready to reunite with audiences once again. When the 2021–2022 concert season begins at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on October 2, newly appointed Music Director David Danzmayr will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, aptly titled Resurrection, to the delight of an in-person crowd—and for the first time ever, viewers at home will have the opportunity to purchase tickets for a livestreamed showing of the event.
“It will be really exciting for people of all stripes, wherever they are in the world, to tune in,” Showalter says. “We want our community to once again enjoy their Oregon Symphony live, and also share the power of our orchestra with audiences around the world via livestreamed experiences.”
During the hiatus, sizable investment went toward the installation of the Meyer Acoustic Constellation System, which will transform the concert-going experience. This cutting-edge sonic enhancement is on level with the greatest acoustic spaces in the world; everyone will be able to hear the full warmth and quality of the Oregon Symphony, no matter where they are seated.
With single tickets now on sale, the Oregon Symphony is setting the stage for a diverse lineup, including the world premiere of Portland composer Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem and notable guest appearances such as New Year’s Eve with Gladys Knight and A Pink Martini Valentine.
Starting in November, the family-friendly Kids Series will kick off with The Magic of Mozart, featuring live dancers, a youth choir, and more. Throughout its Popcorn Series, blockbuster films will be shown on the big screen while the orchestra performs the soundtracks live, creating vibrant renditions of Pixar’s Coco, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix™, The Princess Bride, and a holiday screening of It’s a Wonderful Life. You won’t want to miss Disney in Concert: A Magical Celebration, either; with tunes from the classics and recent favorites, this multimedia spectacle will have you humming along, likely for days afterward.
In breadth and perspective, there truly is something for everyone, young or old, to enjoy. “Sometimes, you’ve got to take that leap of faith and know that you’re going to have an incredible experience—and maybe learn something in the process,” Showalter says. “That’s where I find the beauty of music. It can be comforting for those that want to hear familiar works, and it can be challenging, exciting, and inspiring to listen to works that are brand-new, that the world has never heard before.”
Showalter is hopeful that the Oregon Symphony will also spark a sort of renaissance for the city. “We have a leadership imperative, I think, as well as an artistic one, to help bring back downtown,” he explains. “I know the importance from talking to city hall about what it will mean for the Oregon Symphony to come back online and bring life and vitality downtown a hundred-plus nights a year.”
Proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, and masks will be mandatory for those in attendance, and protocols will be implemented to safeguard the health of everyone, from musicians and guest artists to patrons and those staffing a concert. “Ultimately, we want to be back to what we’ve been doing as an industry for hundreds if not thousands of years: in-person performances before patrons who want to experience music of all kinds,” Showalter says. “We’ve got to get back to that, both to really deliver on the power of music and the opportunity that it brings for people to unite, inspire, educate, and heal, but we want to do that in the safest way possible.”
To explore the Oregon Symphony’s upcoming shows, visit orsymphony.org/concerts-tickets/calendar.