A Whole New Sonic Experience

Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale will play its first concert Sept. 26 and 27 with a downsized orchestra and audience

By Maggie Dresser
Glacier Symphony performance. Courtesy photo

To celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birth year anniversary, Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale (GSC) will highlight the famous composer along with Mozart and Haydn at the first concert of the 2020-2021 season.

While only Beethoven’s birth year is known and not his actual birthday, 2020 remains an important year for classical music, but the pandemic has made his celebration challenging.

“The first concert is a good one and it’s firmly embedded in this particular period of time at the turn of the 18th through 19th century,” Director John Zoltek said. “Some of our other concerts that are coming up later feature much different musical elements, but this one is strongly seeded in that time.”

“Microcosms,” named to describe GSC’s smaller venue, will feature pianist Rodolfo Leone, winner of the 2017 International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna at the first concert.

Once the pandemic hit, Zoltek wasn’t sure if GSC would have a season at all this year, but organizers decided to adapt and the symphony is working with the county health department to ensure a safe concert season.

While there’s usually an audience of 400 to 500 people at performances, GSC now has a 150-person limit. Musicians will be distanced six feet apart on stage with fewer than 30 performers compared to a full 70-person orchestra. Players will also wear masks with the exception of wind musicians.

GSC is also accommodating audience members who are unable to attend live concerts with a “re-broadcast” of the show, which will stream Oct. 17 and 18.

“It was just an organizational decision that we would prefer to try and do something rather than just shut it down,” Zoltek said. “We felt like during these times it’s important to play people music.”

Zoltek normally plans a concert season a year in advance, so once COVID forced the symphony to limit its orchestra, he had to rework the entire season, creating a different repertoire to compensate for the smaller group of musicians.

But with a smaller symphony, Zoltek says the sound will exude more transparency and clarity, giving the orchestra a “whole new sonic experience.” While large orchestras create a powerful sound, distinct sounds are often buried with 70 musicians, he said.

“When music lovers come to hear a classical era piece done in a smaller orchestra, which would probably be the way that it was done when it was written, they’re going to hear things they’ve never heard before,” GSC Communications Manager Nancy Brunson said. “If you can look at the silver lining to COVID, the inventiveness of what John has chosen are things that people may not have had the opportunity to hear live.”

While Brunson is looking forward to the smaller orchestra, she’s also glad the local community will be able to see live music once again.

“If you remember when COVID first hit, people were out on their balconies playing music,” Brunson said. “It’s a natural human reaction; there’s a real need for people to have this music and particularly live and visual. So if you want to feel better, come to a concert.”

Flathead High School will host GSC’s first concert on Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Sept. 27. The season will run through April 2021.

For live concert or digital performance tickets, visit www.glaciersymphony.org or call the box office at (406) 407-7000. Dates, venues, programs and soloists are subject to change due to COVID-19 guidelines.


Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.