Music

Bellingham Symphony Orchestra

From the comfort of home

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

If there’s one thing you can count on around these parts, as surely as the sun will rise and set and Pacific Northwesterners will never understand that socks are not to be worn with sandals, it’s that when the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra announces its season, tickets will go quickly.

Loud shows in dark bars get a lot of press—especially from me—but anyone really in the know about Bellingham’s music scene can tell you that the surest sellout in town is the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra season. Year in and year out, for nearly half a century now, the BSO (formerly the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra) has been packing the Mount Baker Theatre, filling it with not only people, but the sweet sound of orchestral music.

It’s quite a feat, and their 45th season was set to be more of the same.

I have a feeling you can guess what’s coming next, as it’s the theme that ties together all of our arts and entertainment coverage these days: Then COVID-19 hit and changed everything.

Although the BSO’s season was not set to kick off until summer wanes into fall, chances that things will be back to normal by then are somewhere between slim and none. Even a “new normal” in which people will be comfortable thronging into the Mount Baker Theatre feels farfetched on the BSO timeline’s. Plus, an orchestra isn’t like an indie rock band that can simply pack up a few instruments and a singer, stuff themselves into a dilapidated van and adjust to whatever is coming. It’s a lot of people with specialized talents that require a commensurate amount of planning. Think about the coordination that must go into even a single BSO concert in terms of rehearsals and the performance itself—then extrapolate that over an entire season, add in our current state of COVID-induced uncertainty, and implementing a workable strategy that accounts for all the in-motion variables becomes difficult if not impossible.

A lot of organizations would throw in the towel, call the 45th season a wash and take a year off. Everyone would understand.

But the BSO is comprised of creative people, and when faced with unforeseen obstacles, creative people innovate their way around them. Taking COVID as a challenge to be overcome, the organization has dubbed their upcoming season “At Home with the BSO,” and pandemic or no pandemic, this is one show that will go on.

“The BSO is concerned with keeping our musicians, concertgoers and community safe during this time, which is why we came up with our innovative online concert series,” Gail Ridenour, executive director of the BSO says. “While we don’t know when we can return to the wonderful Mount Baker Theatre stage, we do know that we can bring you fantastic concerts—from our homes to yours.”

Here’s how At Home with the BSO is going to work: Each concert will be beamed from the internet straight into your home via whatever means you use to access online content. The concerts will feature a soloist who will not only perform, but will also be interviewed as part of the experience. And, of course, BSO musicians will get in on the orchestral action with special performances as well. So far, the BSO has tapped Seattle Symphony violinist Elisa Barston, New York Philharmonic principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, and world-renowned solo violinist Bella Hristova for their special season, with more delights sure to come. Schedules and information about how to procure your all-access online season subscription will be forthcoming just as soon as all the details of this unorthodox effort are ironed out.

Yes, streaming concerts at home lacks some of the ambiance of watching them at the lovely and historic Mount Baker Theatre, but don’t be afraid to make a big deal of every At Home with the BSO performance. Dress up, open a bottle of the good wine, make a platter of fancy snacks and go all out. It’s highly likely this will be the only At Home with the BSO season you’re going to get, so treat it like a special event rather than an orchestra in exile. But given how this community has risen to every occasion during these strange times, my advice is probably unneeded.

“We are very fortunate to live in a community that pulls together in extraordinary times to provide all of us with ways to continue to connect and participate in the arts while still maintaining safety for our musicians and patrons,” Ridenour says.

For more information about At Home with the BSO, find them at http://www.bellinghamsymphony.org.

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