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David and Art - “The Return of the Orchestra”

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

As orchestras prepare for a new season, the audiences of the future are somewhere out there too.

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This month, symphony orchestras all over the country are excitedly beginning new seasons. They’re welcoming audiences back to the concert hall, many for the first time in well over a year.  Here in central Texas the Waco Symphony recently announced its new lineup of concerts.  Season tickets went on sale last Wednesday.

As you can imagine, life during the covid pandemic was hard on all performing arts organizations, but especially so on orchestras all around the world.  Many groups, including the Austin Symphony gave concerts online during the lockdown just to keep a close connection between the musicians and their fans.

In the several programs of emergency COVID relief passed by Congress over the last 18 months, there was funding set aside for arts groups like orchestras.  Symphonies from Alaska to Vermont received federal aid. It went to orchestras in big cities like Boston and St. Louis and to ones in smaller places like Reading, Pennsylvania, and Santa Rosa, California.  For some it meant the difference between being in suspended animation and closing forever. 

Now with orchestras cautiously opening back up again, even in the face of the delta variant, there’s a sense of excitement.  Symphonies in Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Chicago, and many other places are requiring you to have proof you’re vaccinated, or a recent negative COVID test to attend concerts. Most all of them are requiring masks.

Think about this for a second:  If you like classical music, do you remember where and how you acquired your taste for it? This is no small question these days. Any number of studies including some from the national endowment for the arts, indicate that the audiences for symphony orchestras slowly are shrinking.  Therefore, getting what’s known as “classical” music into the ears of more people is an important mission for any orchestra and a daunting challenge as well.

Orchestras seem to believe that such tastes are largely developed in youth and that may well be the case.  I’ve mentioned before that my earliest memory of classical music is of an album my parents had of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” recorded by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1960. I was captivated by it and remember listening to it again and again.  My parents introduced me to it; it didn’t just happen.

Bernstein himself was tremendously dedicated to educating young people about orchestral music.  And that’s what the art form needs now very much maybe more than ever.