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The University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra returns with an in-person season

 University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra 2021-2022 season logo
University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra

Last year was a tough one for musicians of all sorts and that includes the University of Wyoming (UW) Symphony Orchestra. Not getting audience feedback is difficult. This year it'll be different. The in-person symphony season kicks off on October 7 at 7:30 p.m. Longtime Symphony Director and Conductor Michael Griffith joined Bob Beck to preview the season and discuss how they plan on having a safe performance.

Michael Griffith: We are strongly encouraging audience members to be masked, but we don't have the right to insist on that. But we are strongly encouraging that. The orchestra and I will all be masked just like we were last year and that includes these special masks we have for woodwind and brass players, where there's a little slot with a flap and they can open that up and still play these wind instruments. And also all the wind instruments have a cloth over the bells of the instruments, that protects people. We don't do the social distancing, but we will have quite a gap between the orchestra in the audience, we're not selling tickets in the first few rows. So that's another level of safety between the orchestra and all the members of the audience. And finally, even though we are doing these concerts live, we are also live-streaming them.

So, if somebody feels like they really want to hear the orchestra, but I'm not comfortable going to a concert quite yet, then they can join us online. The sound, depending on the sound quality of their own home system, may or may not be as good as what they would hear live. And you don't get that interaction that you do live. But on the other hand, if that's the way that you feel most safe, we'd rather have you do that than not hear us at all.

Bob Beck: So, I understand your theme this year is joy in reflection. Tell us how you came about that.

MG: I set the season and we designed the brochure during the summer when COVID numbers were really, really low. And the thought that this thing is probably over. But anyway, that is the answer to what we did last year that the psychological and emotional needs of our audience. And I thought it was really twofold. One was that it was a depressing year and we need something joyful, we need some joyful music to really get us out of our funk. And so a good deal of the music we're doing is exactly that. Matter of fact, I kind of rack my brain, "what is the happiest piece of music in the entire repertoire and that's how we'll start the season. And I ended up debating between the Leonard Bernstein Overture to Candide and the Johann Strauss Overture to Die Fledermaus. And after going back and forth, and back and forth, it was the Die Fledermaus [that] won. So we're going to start with this just happy fun piece of music. And there will be various things like that interspersed, including we're ending the season with George Gershwin's An American in Paris.

On the other hand, we would not be doing our duty as serious musicians, to not accept the fact that it was a very difficult year. And as musicians, we can help people process that. And so I have chosen some music, which is not depressing, but is calm and allows for reflection, allows for thought or at least just allows us to sit still and calmly absorb some music. That doesn't make huge demands on us. But at the same time lets us immerse ourselves in the sound of beautiful music. And so there was some music of that nature. And some pieces are actually a little of one and then a little of the other.

BB: You are kicking off with Strauss on October 7 at 7:30 p.m. Anything else you want to mention about opening night?

MG: Our guest soloist is Dr. Katrina Zook, who everybody knows is a member of the voice faculty at UW. And she's just recently also taken over as department chair. And she'll be singing three songs by Ravel, a beautiful French impressionist composer, and then a couple of arias by Handel. No not from the Messiah, but from a couple of his operas. And then we're going to the whole second half of that concert which will be Beethoven's First Symphony. You know, we've done a lot of later Beethoven symphonies, which are big and powerful and dramatic. His first symphony was his first attempt at the symphonic repertoire, it's much more youthful. It's much more joyful and much more sparkly. If you didn't know it, just listen and you'd probably think it was Mozart and not Beethoven. So that's our first concert.

BB: And you look at the rest of the schedule, any other highlights you'd like to mention?

MG: We are bringing the holiday concert back, keeping our fingers crossed that COVID allows us to do that. And then a huge project that we're doing that I have been trying to put together for years and finally doing, working together with the choreographers and dancers and technicians in the Department of Theatre and Dance. We are doing two fully-staged ballets from the repertoire of Paris' Ballets Russes, We're doing Claude Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Igor Stravinsky, Petrushka. Fully staged as ballets with the orchestra playing these incredible scores. And I think this is going to be a real accomplishment. And we're doing that in the spring.

If you don't have a symphony brochure and want one, call the box office, they have some that they can send to you. 307-766-6666 and they can help you with a brochure and sell you tickets, and of course, take donations to the Symphony Association.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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