OMAHA — Who are those masked musicians?
That would be the Omaha Symphony strings section, taking the necessary precautions to play a concert amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The all-strings concert, on Oct. 3, will be part of Centennial Overtures, a prelude to the orchestra’s official 100th anniversary celebration that begins in January.
The program is one of two to be held that weekend on the east lawn of the Holland Performing Arts Center. It will feature the works of composers Jessie Montgomery, Gustav Holst and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The other is a concert of classical works made familiar by pop culture.
The festival was planned by a committee of symphony leaders and musicians, with input from Omaha Performing Arts, which presents shows at the Holland, and health guidance from the City of Omaha.
“We worked very hard to come up with a fall offering that fits within the perimeters of what is safe in the pandemic,” said symphony concertmaster Susanna Perry Gilmore, who was on the committee. “I cannot convey how happy my heart is that we are able to return to live music.”
The festival will consist of nine performances at various locations around the city. It will begin with several pop-up concerts featuring symphony and brass ensembles on Sept. 24, 26 and 27. Other events include “Carnival of the Animals,” “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and a program highlighting Gilmore on Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”
A different version of the symphony’s annual Christmas celebration also is on the schedule. “Physicians Mutual: Home for the Holidays with the Omaha Symphony” is set for Dec. 18 and 19.
A complete list of Centennial Overtures concerts can be found at omahasymphony.org.
In an interview, Gilmore said she’s thrilled about the entire festival but is especially excited about an all-Ludwig von Beethoven program. His Third Symphony, Eroica, is on the program.
“It is such a triumphant and hopeful work,” she said. “I can’t think of a better piece to play right now for our spirits.”
Because of the pandemic, the concerts, especially those inside the Holland, will look somewhat different, Gilmore said.
Musicians will be distanced and will not share music stands. The number of tickets will be limited so the audience will be socially distanced as well.
The outdoor concerts are free; tickets for the others will be available starting Sept. 18 at the symphony website. Seating outdoors will be limited to 95 lawn squares that accommodate up to eight people each.
Omaha Performing Arts has been working on state-of-the-art safety measures, including better airflow and “touchless everything,” Gilmore said.
“We’re all feeling very comfortable,” she said.
She said committee members and the other Omahans they worked with were united in their desire to bring back live music this fall in a way that’s appropriate during the pandemic.
“There is an overwhelmingly collective will to figure out how we can persevere safely with the arts,” Gilmore said. “The connection that we will have with each other through live music-making will make wearing masks worthwhile.”
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