Glacier Symphony Adapts in the Pandemic

The symphony, orchestra and chorale launched a digital performance and hopes to perform live with a smaller ensemble in September

By Maggie Dresser
Conductor John Zoltek directs the orchestra during a rehearsal of "The Magic Flute," part of Glacier Symphony and Chorale's 10th annual Festival Amadeus, on Aug. 11, 2017. Beacon file photo

With orchestra and chorale performances that usually draw audiences of 300 to 500 people to watch up to 70 musicians performing live on stage, staff at the Glacier Symphony had to reimagine the summer season amid a pandemic and how it will phase into the fall and 2021.

To compensate for the lack of performances this summer, organizers at the symphony launched “Soundscape Experience,” a series of digital performances from past seasons combined with nature imagery and compelling visuals.

“People can enjoy the music and watch the performers and get transported into relaxation mode,” Music Director and Conductor John Zoltek said.

While the performance is available online, staff mails out copies across the valley to season ticket holders, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and schools in the Flathead, Eureka, Libby and other nearby areas.

“It’s just our way of connecting with the community and with our audience,” Zoltek said.

Glacier Symphony has already released two episodes of “Soundscape Experience” and plans to continue dropping new releases about once a month to keep material fresh. Now that staff has the alternative format dialed in, Zoltek says they will probably continue creating the digital performances even when they are able to perform live again.

Before COVID-19 interrupted live performances this spring, Zoltek had already mapped out the season, which would normally begin in summer 2020 and end in spring 2021. But with such a high volume of musicians on stage at once who perform in front of hundreds of people, Zoltek felt he had no choice but to postpone the concerts.

“We’re in the position of every other performing-arts organization,” Zoltek said. “Rather than take the route of saying, ‘Oh well, we’re not doing any concerts,’ my approach is, ‘We’re going to try and pair down and do some smaller concerts to keep the symphony.’”

This September, Zoltek hopes to feature smaller “microcosm” events with 20-musician performances instead of the usual 60-member ensemble to play in front of a limited 75-person audience to allow for social distancing. Musicians could potentially perform in masks, too.

“This would be very restrictive,” Zoltek said. “This is even if we can do it at all.”

Additionally, the new performance and lecture hall at Flathead Valley Community College, a concert venue and part of the College Center, has a postponed opening in January 2022. Originally planned for completion in fall 2021, Zoltek says the pandemic slowed down construction and funding for the project.

More than $18 million has been raised through the ONE Campaign to construct the venue, which will serve as the Glacier Symphony’s primary venue, and is specifically designed for symphony acoustics.

“It’s very exciting,” Zoltek said. “The symphony is really looking forward to performing in that new venue and have a home performance space.”

The College Center will also include an art and exhibition gallery and reception hall, an outdoor amphitheater and a multi-purpose activity complex.

To donate, visit https://www.fvcc.edu/give-one-campaign/.

For more information about the Glacier Symphony and to watch Soundscape Experience, visit https://glaciersymphony.org/.

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