Most symphony orchestras on sabbatical

COVID-19 pandemic curtails symphony seasons across Montana

On Stage

Montana’s symphony orchestras began to cancel and postpone concerts in mid-March in the face of the state’s COVID-19 precautions.

The Helena Symphony Orchestra and Chorale postponed the season finale, “Carmen in Concert,” to June 13. The Closing Night After Party, originally scheduled for May 2, will follow the Symphony’s Opening Night Concert on Saturday, Sept. 19.

In addition to Carmen in Concert on June 13, the upcoming benefit concert at Montana Ting (A Night in Hollywood at Montana Ting) is still scheduled for June 27 (with Aug. 1 as an alternative date), and the popular Intrepid Credit Union Symphony Under the Stars at Carroll College is scheduled for July 18 (Aug. 8 is the alternate date.

“Music is needed more than ever,” says Music Director Allan R. Scott. “Music defines who we are and who we strive to be, and the Helena Symphony exists for this very reason – to bring the hearts and minds of the people in our community together through music – and we look forward to being with everyone again in concert soon.” The principal musicians of the orchestra have been offering daily mini concerts. “Over 2,500 people every day are experiencing these wonderful musical moments,” says Rehanna Olson, director of artistic planning. “We are absolutely committed to keeping music going for this community.”

The Great Falls Symphony took an innovative approach with its Chamber Music Series. “Independent Spirits” by the Chinook Winds was cancelled for March 15, but live streamed via Facebook. By April 2, the organization had opted to postpone the remainder of its season, including the main series concert, Gloria on April 25, as well as Chamber Music Series concerts Native Views on April 17 and 19 and Synthesis on May 15 and 17.

The choir concert, Jubilee, has been postponed until the 2020-2021 season. All tickets will be honored for the new date and time, which will be determined at a later date.

“The cancellations of our concerts pose not only a loss of culture in our city, but also creates financially damaging losses for the Great Falls Symphony,” writes executive director Hilary Rose Shepherd. “We ask that you consider a donation in lieu of a voucher or refund. We are deeply grateful to your continued support and understanding during this time.

The Missoula Symphony, which is recruiting a new music director, postponed their last concert of the “Pass the Baton” season, which was slated for April 18-19.

“Our final finalist, Zoe Zeniodi, resides in Greece and clearly she is unable to travel to the U.S. at this time,” said executive director Jo May Salonen. The Missoula Symphony Association office was temporarily closed in mid-March and employees were working remotely.

“As with the rest of the world, we take this situation day by day, hour by hour in an effort to keep our musicians, patrons, staff and volunteers safe,” she said.

Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale looks forward to hosting Symphony Night at Rebecca Farm in July.
Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale looks forward to hosting Symphony Night at Rebecca Farm in July.

Likewise, Bozeman Symphony is searching for a new music director, and the season’s final concert, May 2-3, has been cancelled. Janna Hymes, the sixth and final candidate for the position, was slated to present Te Deum, “a grand display of chorus, brass fanfare, timpani, cymbals, triangle and bass drum.”

“Each day seems to present new information and new challenges,” says executive director Emily Paris-Martin.

The organization has cancelled Symphonic Choir rehearsals until further notice and plans to reschedule several events including Symphony at the Shane and the annual Underwriters Appreciation Reception, which was slated to showcase talented cellist Tristan Hernandez, runner-up for the 2019 Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras’ Young Artist Competition.

“Music is a healing force and we need that now,” says Paris-Martin. “I am personally fortunate to have the support of the Symphony’s Board of Directors along with a strong network of colleagues across the state as we work together in this.” She adds that symphony orchestras nationwide “are taking vital steps to move our organizations forward and provide an essential platform for resources.”

The Billings Symphony postponed its final production of the season, including a concert version of “West Side Story” in March; “Rachmaninoff,” in April; and the “Who Cares” Symphony Benefit in May. While acknowledging that it was a difficult decision, the organization saw it as the best way to protect “the safety and well-being of our patrons, donors, musicians, guest artists, and all our symphony family.”

Visit for free access to its archive of audio-recorded performances. According to the website, “Music heals and inspires no matter the circumstances.” Hopefully, the orchestra’s annual Symphony in the Park, held this year in tandem with Yellowstone Art Museum’s Summerfair, will fill Pioneer Park with art and music June 26-28.

Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale has cancelled its annual Spring Festival, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, April 25-26, but looks forward to major summer events: Symphony Night at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, July 10-11, and Festival Amadeus, Aug. 7-16 in Whitefish.

The Butte Symphony’s final concert of the season, “Unfinished Symphonies of Great Composers” on April 11, is postponed indefinitely and a chamber concert in March was shelved “at the last minute,” according to executive director Lowell Stuck. “We were 50% through the rehearsals for the April performance and are disappointed that it has been put on hold. But the important thing is to keep everyone safe, healthy and help our members through this difficult time.”

He notes the performing arts groups across the state, which rely on ticket sales, are experiencing the financial fallout from COVID-19 closures.

“We are trying to stay fluid and adjust as the circumstance develops,” he adds. “We are not spending time wondering what would be … but instead we are trying to look at the state of events in a proactive and realistic way. “