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A look back at a dirty, rotten, and painful, but also beautiful and hopeful 2021 – Part I.

A thumbnail sketch.

As 2021 began, I and my colleagues in the orchestra were all furloughed without pay, as were virtually all of the administrative staff. 45th Parallel Universe, a collective musical group, created over 50 consecutive weeks of live-streamed or virtual concert content.

By Spring of 2021, the strings of the orchestra had begun a video project called Carlos @ 18, celebrating outgoing Music Director Carlos Kalmar’s 18 years with the orchestra.

By the middle of 2021, vaccines were becoming widely available, and with that euphoric thaw in June (just before Delta reared its ugly coronal head) the possibility of there being a 2021-2022 season became not just a possibility, but a likelihood (though we had no idea what sort of concerts or audiences we might be able to produce or face).

In August, a favorite chamber music festival returned to live and live-streamed performances. On September 29, 2021, the Oregon Symphony returned in full force to begin rehearsals on Mahler’s mighty Symphony No. 2 “Ressurection”. The concerts were glorious and emotional. The orchestra was back.

As the season progressed, several guest conductors were unable to travel to the US due to restrictions related to COVID-19. The year concluded with an emotional and joyful performance with Gladys Knight.

Highlights

During the depths of lockdown, the artistic spirit was fed by forays into the music of J.S. Bach in the confines of my home studio. I was able to make a home recording of Bach, Britten, and Bunch for AllClassical.org’s Thursday’s @ Three broadcasts. Performing with others – that itch was scratched by intense collaborations with my colleagues in 45th Parallel Universe. In particular, the several projects I did with my friends in the Pyxis Quartet were both challenging and rewarding.

Our concert where music was paired with animated shorts was one of the highlights of our Pyxis productions. In particular, the work of Zak Margolis was touching and heartfelt, his images paired with the quiet paths of a quartet movement by Florence Price.

Andante moderato by Florence Price, animation by Zak Margolis.

The other concert featured Pyxis playing the headbanging last movement of Bartók’s Fourth String Quartet with the addition of Boston-based drummer Cristián Tamblay.

Bartók’s Fourth Quartet, movement V with percussionist Cristián Tamblay.

With the Oregon Symphony, concerts were also remotely viewed for the first three quarters of 2021. The string section retreated to an event space in the Pearl District for 6-foot-distanced performances with outgoing music director Carlos Kalmar. Two of my favorite works we performed on the series were Benjamin’s Britten’s Simple Symphony, Op. 4 and Richard Strauss’ Sextet from his opera Capriccio.

As the summer months of 2021 began, the widespread availability of three COVID-19 vaccines allowed a possibility of normality to return. A very joyful reunion of friends made possible by 45th Parallel in early June was a string quartet concert entitled ‘Friends’. With the music of George Walker, Osvaldo Golijov and Beethoven, it was a taste of things to come.

Time is short, so I must hold off on continuing this post – look for part two in the coming days.

By Charles Noble

I'm the Assistant principal violist of the Oregon Symphony.

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