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St. Louis Symphony Will Return To Powell Hall For Modified Spring Season

powell.jpg
Alyse O'Brien
A series of spring concerts at Powell Hall will accommodate up to 300 ticket holders.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will perform at a reopened Powell Hall for eight weeks of concerts that begin March 26, orchestra leaders announced Tuesday.

Attendance will be limited to 300 ticket holders per concert, double the number permitted for a series of concerts there in the fall. Those performances were the orchestra’s first in front of Powell Hall audiences after St. Louis officials imposed restrictions on public gatherings in the spring to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Other coronavirus safety measures will remain in place for the upcoming series, such as socially distanced seating and shorter concerts with no intermission or food and drink service.

“We want to make sure more people can enjoy the concerts,” President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard said. “Now, with people getting the vaccination, I think the comfort level is better now than it was in the fall.”

Music Director Stéphane Denève will lead five weeks of concerts, Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin will conduct one program, and newly appointed Assistant Conductor Stephanie Childress will make her St. Louis Symphony Orchestra debut for two programs. In place of guest artists, orchestra members will step forward as featured soloists during most concerts.

"In time of difficulties, you want to just regroup within your own family and feel this warmth and this feeling of support to each other," Denève said. "And so it felt just perfectly natural that we would concentrate on making music just with us. To see each other, to be together.”

The orchestra will also resume outdoor “On the Go” performances for small audiences in May and is in talks with city officials to stage a concert in Forest Park in “late spring,” Bernard said.

The announcement came just short of a year after orchestra leaders canceled the first concerts in the face of the escalating pandemic. After staging a series of concerts for limited audiences with small ensembles in October and November, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra elected not to continue the series as coronavirus case numbers continued a post-Thanksgiving spike that lasted through January.

"After the first wave we were finally able to make music again, and at the time we hoped we could extend," Denève said. "And then the second wave hit and it was terrible."

Since then, orchestra leaders also commissioned a study of airflow onstage led by Stephen Liang and Abigail Carlson of Washington University School of Medicine. Effective air circulation onstage and among audience members is key to the organization’s safety protocols, Bernard said.

“We wanted to learn about Powell Hall and how safe it was,” she said, “and it’s very safe.”

The number of new COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations fell last month in St. Louis and nationwide in February. Orchestra leaders have consulted with medical experts throughout the pandemic to inform their decisions about concert protocols.

“We started consulting regularly to see where the trends were heading and the doctors felt that they were heading in the right direction enough to warrant performances in late March,” Bernard said.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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