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Kansas City Symphony Plans To Return To Helzberg Hall In 2021 – With Mostly Strings On Stage At First

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Eric T. Williams
Kansas City Symphony
Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern leads musicians in a rehearsal -- distanced and wearing masks.

The orchestra is gearing up for limited, in-person concerts in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts starting January 17 after almost a year away from an indoor stage.

The Kansas City Symphony announced Thursday it will start off the new year with a scaled-down return to its home stage in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Concerts scheduled from January through March 2021 will take place with a smaller-than-usual orchestra, distanced and with masks on.

“We're fundamentally a symphony orchestra with, you know, 80 musicians on staff,” executive director Danny Beckley said. “None of that lends itself to COVID right now.”

Beckley said the repertoire planned before the pandemic called for big symphonic music. So the symphony's staff and musicians scrapped it and started over.

“We’ll have some wind instruments, brass and woodwinds serving as soloists from time to time,” Beckley said. “But it's largely more string orchestra, chamber orchestra type repertoire in the first half.”

"The choice of music mines the richness of some of the greatest music ever written for string orchestra," music director Michael Stern said in a news release, "From Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, through Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, through the diversity of some of the most compelling voices of our time."

Eric T. Williams
Kansas City Symphony
The Kansas City Symphony plans to return to in-person concerts at Helzberg Hall in January 2021, with masks on and social distancing.

Stern is slated to conduct 10 concerts in the Classical series. And conductor Jack Everly will lead two concerts in the Pops series: "Hollywood!," featuring film music; and "In Love, with Strings," with works by Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, and more. Each concert will be one hour with no intermission.

Programming for April, May and June is expected to be announced in late February.

The Symphony worked with a team from The University of Kansas Health System to put new protocols in place.

Attendance at Helzberg Hall will be limited to about 20% capacity or fewer than 300 people. Masks will be required at all times, and food and beverage service will not be available. Temperature checks will be conducted at the entrance. And there will be lots of cleaning — before, during, and after concerts.

“We felt we could serve our mission that we could perform for live audiences,” Beckley said, “and that we could perform for digital audiences in a way that would be as safe as possible.”

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Eric T. Williams
Kansas City Symphony
The size of the orchestra on stage will be pared down when the Symphony returns to Helzberg Hall, and audiences will be limited to about 20 percent capacity.

Like many organizations, Kansas City's symphony adapted during the pandemic, "to basically be not only an orchestra but a media company," Beckley said. The organization invested in a new digital platform, MySymphonySeat.org, so viewers can watch performances from home — streamed live as well as on-demand.

Most of the online content on this site, including interviews and concert talks, will be for subscribers, Beckley said, although some will be available to the general public.

Kansas City, Missouri’s emergency order limiting gatherings to a maximum of 10 persons remains in effect until Jan. 16. The symphony’s new concerts are slated to start on Jan. 17.

“It’s my hope that the order is not extended, but if it is extended, we will adapt accordingly,” Beckley said. “It will not, however, prevent us from performing as an orchestra and offering the digital product. We’ll just have to make adjustments based on our in-person audiences.”

The other two resident companies at the Kauffman Center, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Kansas City Ballet, are expected to announce plans for 2021 in the first quarter of the year.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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