After more than a year of silence in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, live music played once again.
The Oregon Symphony kicked off its 125th season Saturday night with a new conductor and a new sound system.
The evening began with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, which new music director David Danzmayr described as one of the most emotional pieces of music ever written.
Audiences were treated to a new state of the art Constellation Acoustic sound system made up of 86 ambient-sensing microphones and 293 loudspeakers placed throughout the concert hall.
“Putting a piece like this on stage takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication,” Danzmayr says. “And the result of this kind of compositions of this kind of music is that you have maybe a life-changing event.”
This was Danzmayr’s first full concert after taking over the role from previous director Carlos Kalmar, who stepped down last year and transitioned to his new role as conductor laureate. Though he won’t be as active with the orchestra, audiences can expect Kalmar to guest conduct from time to time.
“Any time that David wants me to be here for a week … I will come back. I’m very proud and honored about the fact that David was very generous in terms of fishing for the first concert I do as laureate,” said Kalmar.
Danzmayr, Kalmar and Ginette DePreist, widow of beloved music director James DePreist, spoke about the history of the Oregon Symphony and its bright future under Danzmayr’s leadership.
DePreist recalled her late husband’s influence on Oregon’s classical music-loving community, with one story about a bus driver.
“Jimmy was coming out of a rehearsal at the entrance and, there’s a bus that comes there and as he’s coming out, the bus driver opened his door and he said, ‘Hi, Jimmy, how about some Hindemith next year?’” she laughs.
Under James DePreist’s leadership, the Oregon Symphony rose in prominence to become one of the most respected orchestras in the United States.
In 2003, Kalmar took over the music director role from DePreist. Eighteen years later, Kalmar says he was ecstatic to hand the role to Danzmayr.
“I observed David’s work with the orchestra on pieces that I have done with this orchestra two times. And I was just having a ball because I thought this is exactly what needs to happen. It’s hard for me to explain what a joy that is.”
In September, the orchestra played live for the first time since February 2020 at the Waterfront Concert held at Tom McCall Park. It was also where Kalmar ceremonially passed the baton over to Danzmayr.
Danzmayr knew he wanted to work with the orchestra from the very first time he guest conducted in 2018.
“I did like 10 minutes of a run through a movement of a Brahms symphony and I stopped and I was like, wow, now I have to say some critical remarks, but that sounds really great! And for me, that’s a very joyful thing to take over an orchestra that is at a very good level and good place.”
Danzmayr leads the Symphony during a time of continued change. Before the Waterfront concert, the musicians hadn’t played together for more than 18 months.
“I had rehearsals for Waterfront and I was in the best way, surprised about how good they sound, how good they sound together, and how wonderful they play. And of course there’s incredible joy and an appetite for making music,” says Danzmayr
With a slew of new concerts scheduled at the Schnitzer, Danzmayr, Kalmar and DePreist are all excited for live music to return to Oregon.
“You can have the best sound system in the world in your house, it’s never the same as live music,” DePreist says. “You can hear Beethoven’s 7th symphony 50 times and none of them will be the same.”