Symphony Season Openers: Triumphant Return

Missoula, Helena, Billings and Bozeman symphonies return to live performance this month

On Stage

After nearly 18 months, symphony orchestras across Montana are tuning instruments for a return to live performance. The Missoula and Helena symphonies launch their seasons Saturday, Sept. 18, while the Billings Symphony Orchestra performs its first concert Sept. 25; the Bozeman Symphony offers two performances, Sept. 25-26 at Willson Auditorium; and the Great Falls Symphony performs Oct. 2.

Helena Symphony’s 67th season opened Sept. 18 at the Helena Civic Center with the immortal “Ode to Joy.”

Missoula Symphony Music Director Julia Tai takes the podium in the season opener.
Missoula Symphony Music Director Julia Tai takes the podium in the season opener.

“We believe it is important to capture the emotions, the trials, the difficulties, and the triumphs that our community and the human spirit in general endured this past year,” says Maestro Allan R. Scott.

“There is no better way to kick off Season 67 than with one of the greatest works of mankind, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Following the performance, audience members are invited to the Opening Night Celebration in the ballroom of the Helena Civic Center featuring champagne and desserts. Admittance is free to all season subscribers, and $10 for others.

A free home-streaming option is also available for the concert, courtesy of AARP Montana.

The Missoula Symphony Orchestra continues its return to live music with the season opener, “Motors, Emperors and Activists.” The magnificent “Emperor” piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, with guest artist Jeffry Biegel, along with stirring works by two female composers, Ethel Smyth and Missy Mazzoli, mark the symphony’s first live performance in the UM Dennison Theatre since the pandemic outbreak in 2020.

Concertgoers may choose between two weekend performances, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, or 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19. Performances will also be live streamed for anyone who purchases a ticket and is unable to attend in person. (Masks are required in the Dennison Theatre).

The orchestra’s new music director, Julia Tai, takes the podium after leading the orchestra through the symphony’s first-ever virtual season in response to COVID-19. Tai is looking forward to experiencing Missoula and the arts community in person.

Pianist Gabriela Martinez joins the Billings Symphony in "Pictures."
Pianist Gabriela Martinez joins the Billings Symphony in “Pictures.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to call Missoula my new home and celebrate life, music, and togetherness with you all,” she said.

Those wishing to purchase single tickets for “Motors, Emperors and Activists” or season tickets for the remainder of the 2021-2022 season can do so at

Join Music Director Norman Huynh and the Bozeman Symphony for the first concert of the season, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Willson Auditorium. The concert features the world premiere of The Last Best Place, commissioned by Composer-in-Residence Scott Lee.

In addition, internationally acclaimed cellist Julian Schwarz displays his powerful tone, effortless virtuosity, and large color palette in Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Cello. The performance ends with the sweeping melodies and lush Romanticism of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

“Pictures” is the theme of the Billings Symphony’s first concert, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 in the newly remodeled Alberta Bair Theatre. Acclaimed pianist Gabriela Martínez performs Rachmaninoff’s popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition showcases the brilliant colors of the Billings Symphony Orchestra, providing a scenic backdrop for artwork by Lockwood Elementary students.

The Great Falls Symphony season launches Oct. 2 at the Mansfield Theater with “Rhapsody,” featuring acclaimed pianist Awadagin Pratt in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The season opener is a contrast in style, musical texture and color. Pieces also include: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, Jennifer Higdon’s Celebration Fanfare and Amazing Grace, William Grant Still Jr.’s Serenade (with a surprising Great Falls connection), and Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia.

The Glacier Symphony and Butte Symphony begin their seasons the last weekend in October.