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Our community of lovers of the arts, particularly those who support the Helena Symphony, did themselves proud last weekend, and made us proud of our “best small arts town” reputation in the process.

Saturday’s Symphony performance, before a sold out crowd of around 1,700 at the Helena Civic Center, gave music lovers a chance to hear a master work rarely performed in this country by symphonies of any size, let alone one in a modest city like Helena. The title of the work, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, was slightly hyperbolic, but not by much: some 430 musicians and singers took part in the performance.

More than half of those performers came from out of town — some 255 singers and musicians who needed to be fed, housed and transported around town for the day-plus leading up to Saturday’s performance. The logistics may seem overwhelming, but support came from all corners, and everyone was made to feel at home. Some folks traveled in groups — like the 40-member Salt Lake Children’s Choir, for which the local LDS church arranged housing. Others came on their own, including eight soloists from around the country who each had flights, meals and accommodations to be accounted for.

Our own 80-member orchestra was augmented with 20 additional musicians for the event, and the 95-voice Helena Symphony Chorale had company on stage in the form of the Choral Arts Society of Utah and the Camerata Singers of Pocatello, Idaho, in addition to the Salt Lake Children’s Choir.

The logistics of such an overwhelming event didn’t stop with people-moving. The Civic Center is a wonderful performance space, but it’s not regularly configured for a group of this size. So the stage was enlarged and officials worked to fit the choirs around in such a way that everyone could see the conductor. And in addition to the performers, film crews were on hand for the making of a documentary and DVD that will be available chronicling the weekend.

The performance culminated the Helena Symphony’s seven-year performance of the full series of Mahler works — again, an undertaking few symphonies are willing to consider. The symphony has been widely recognized within symphony circles for taking on a work of such ambition, and it’s important for us too, even those of us who wouldn’t know Mahler from the mayor, to stop and applaud the ambition as well. It’s events like this that make us especially proud to live here, where the arts — and the people who make and enjoy them — contribute so much to our quality of life.

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