Austrian music, absurdist poetry coming to Salem as Oregon Symphony plans October return

The Oregon Symphony performs at Smith Auditorium in Salem in November 2019 (Courtesy/Danielle Peterson, Oregon Symphony)

Peter Frajola learned to play the violin as a child in Salem under the direction of his parents, both musicians.

This fall, he’s eager to return to Willamette University’s Smith Auditorium with the Oregon Symphony, which is planning a regular season after more than a year without in-person concerts.

The symphony is based in Portland but for decades has performed concerts in Salem thanks in large part to the efforts of Oregon Symphony in Salem, a nonprofit organization that merged with the symphony in 2018. Frajola lives in Beaverton but said returning to his hometown is a highlight of the season.

“I always look forward to coming down and meeting people that I haven’t seen and I just love the fact that we have the ability to come and play for a really good audience that loves to hear us,” said Frajola, the symphony’s associate concertmaster.

The symphony was nearing the end of its 2019-20 season when events across Oregon shut down last March, forcing the cancelation of dozens of scheduled concerts, including the May season finale performance in Salem.

Hopes of a regular 2020-21 season were soon dashed, and in July, symphony leaders said they hoped to resume live performances in 2021.

Now, classical music fans can expect a regular season of six performances in Salem running October through next May. The symphony announced its lineup earlier this month, with season tickets on sale now. Packages start at $96 per person for three concerts.

Individual concert tickets will go on sale this summer.

Russell Kelban, the symphony’s vice president for marketing and strategic engagement, said they made the decision to move forward with a season based on monitoring Covid case rates and federal and state public health guidelines.

The exact protocols in place, including any seating capacity restrictions, will depend on any health guidelines in place in the fall, Kelban said. The symphony’s venues in Salem and Portland have also improved ventilation and enhanced cleaning protocols, he said.

“We are going to follow what we’ve been told to follow,” he said. “The musicians have to also be comfortable with how we plan to proceed.”

The season will begin October 29 with a tribute to Austrian music, including Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony (so named for a startling loud chord during the second movement), and “Frankenstein!!,” a collection of absurdist poetry set to music by composer HK Gruber, who will sing and conduct the piece.

The season will also see the debut of the symphony’s new musical director, David Danzmayr, who was announced in February following the departure of Carlos Kalmar after 18 years at the symphony’s helm.

“He’s a wonderful man, he’s a wonderful musician, and we’re just excited as heck to be able to come back and play together as an orchestra,” Frajola said of Danzmayr.

The Salem season includes a mix of classical favorites and more modern compositions. In November, the headlining piece is Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4, featuring guest artist James Ehnes.

“I just can’t get enough. I’m just an old-school guy and I think the Salem audience will really appreciate his playing,” Frajola said.

Later performances will include a tuba concerto co-commissioned by the symphony fusing jazz and classical elements, and selections from the Nutcracker Suite.

Less than a month since tickets went on sale, Kelban said the symphony is near its renewal rate from prior seasons, with many patrons adding donations to help the symphony cover the expense of a year-long shutdown.

“What has been incredibly promising is the response we’ve received from our patrons in Salem,” Kelban said.

Frajola most recently played violin in Salem after the Labor Day wildfires, when he traveled up the Santiam Canyon to play music as volunteers and firefighters were eating lunch or attending church.

“I just went there and played some music for a couple hours and got to meet a few people and give my condolences and sympathies,” he said. “I just love the community. I’m always willing to go down there and play for just anybody that needs to have some music.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.