The last time Eugene Symphony performed at the Hult Center, it was Feb. 23 — 2020 — and the solo pianist Jeffrey Kahane had performed a rendition of “America The Beautiful” that summoned the audience to its feet in a standing ovation.
Then COVID-19 changed everything.
Now the Eugene Symphony has returned to the Hult Center stage for a virtual performance, using the Hult’s new cameras purchased with state arts funding made available from the CARES Act to record the concert. With the new equipment, the upcoming symphony concert is the first of upcoming streamable performances from the Hult’s two stages.
Hult Center General Manager Theresa Sizemore says at the start of the pandemic the venue used the downtime as an opportunity to make some enhancements to the stage. Because the Hult is owned and operated by the city of Eugene, when it was awarded money from the CARES Act, the money could only be used to buy PPE-related material and to cover business recovery costs, such as cameras to help bring people back to the stage.
Sizemore says following other performance spaces throughout the U.S., the Hult decided to invest in cameras and other equipment for high quality streaming. “That would allow them to reach out to their patrons and be able to come in and do a performance without an audience so that they can continue their work on our stages,” she adds.
According to the Hult’s director of marketing, Rich Hobby, the streaming upgrades cost $136,743. This includes $76,870 for three Black Magic cameras and two Panasonic remote-operated panasonic cameras, $47,386 for a system for internal communications between camera operators and staff, $4,200 for a subscription to broadcast high definition through the MyLive service, and $8,287 for additional equipment.
The Eugene Symphony is the first organization to have a performance recorded by the new cameras at the Hult.
“It was an interesting maiden voyage,” says Eugene Symphony Executive Director Scott Freck about the new camera system. On Feb. 18, the orchestra recorded a concert that will be available to stream starting March 4. Freck was a part of the filming process at the Hult concert and says the new equipment is phenomenal and offers unique shots of the musicians on the stage.
Returning to the Hult Center after a year-long absence was emotional, Freck says. “Just the spirit of joy — to be back together making music again. There’s nothing like the magic of talented and trained musicians doing their thing together,” he says “All they had to do was tune and I was tearing up.”
The upcoming concert is bookended by the familiar names of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gustav Holst, Freck says, but also includes work by women. He says the “fireball” of the night is Grażyna Bacewicz’s Concerto for Strings. “I can’t wait for people to discover that and want to know more about her music,” he adds. “She’s been overlooked for too long.”
Before COVID, Eugene Symphony Music Director and Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong would often introduce a work to the audience, providing context for the piece. But for the recording, it’s an opportunity to have other people from the orchestra preface works. “We get to know a little bit about the people making it,” he says.
Having streamable concerts is a way for the Eugene Symphony to introduce music in more accessible and memorable ways for the audience, Freck says. In pre-COVID times, the only way to see the Eugene Symphony was to go to a concert. But with virtual concerts, people from around the country have been watching their content. “We’ve been reaching more people and more places than ever before, and that’s awesome,” he says. “It does give us an opportunity to expand our footprint.”
Eugene Symphony records another concert on March 11 at the Hult, but they won’t be the only artists to return to the stage and use the new cameras for streaming. Sizemore says a local ballet production is exploring a possible return and the venue is planning to launch a series called 10 X 10 that features local and regional artists. That series kicks off with Eugene’s RatieD on March 25.
The Eugene Symphony’s Soundwaves for Strings is available to stream for free starting 7 pm Thursday, March 4, through March 11 at EugeneSymphony.org. The concert is then available on demand for patrons who donate at least $10 monthly.