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Forte: Symphony cranks up the innovation

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Throwback Thursday: Nearly 100 years ago, the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova brought her touring Ballet Russe with symphony orchestra to the newest, largest, most state-of-the-art theater in Washington — what we now know as The Capitol Theatre.

While much has changed in the century since, the basic technology of the orchestra has not; the instruments musicians play today are much the same as they were then. Despite great strides in audio technology and sound synthesis, there is still nothing that can quite duplicate the physical experience of a live performance with these time-tested instruments.

But this does not mean that orchestras have not adapted and innovated as times and technology have changed. Some of these innovations have come from composers, who have integrated nontraditional colors and gestures into traditional orchestral textures, from ancient ethnic instruments, jazz and other popular idioms to electronic and computer music. Other innovations have come from performers, as composers and conductors ask them to push or exceed the limits of their instruments.

The Yakima Symphony Orchestra has adapted video technology to enhance musical presentations, from “real-time program notes” and film screenings to a live camera trained on the hands of piano soloists so everyone in the audience can see the acrobatics on the keyboard.

This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptive innovation is an essential force everywhere — especially in the live music business. Amid stay-at-home orders and restrictions on gatherings and live performances, musicians have adapted by posting performance videos on social media and teaching music lessons online, in efforts to both share their music and generate income.

Over the past four months, the YSO and its partners have been innovating ways to continue to bring people together through music, the essence of our mission:

Since late April, Saturday nights have become anticipated for the release of a weekly video interview with YSO musicians in a series called “Stories From Home.”

Since late May, the YSO has presented recorded performances on the radio and hosted live virtual events for patrons.

A new series of videos created by YSO musicians, “Music From Home,” will begin in August.

The Yakima Youth Symphony Orchestra has innovated a series of free virtual masterclasses and is working now to develop comprehensive virtual programming for the upcoming fall semester. Accordingly, YYSO auditions will for the first time be implemented virtually, via Zoom or recorded audition.

YSO community partner Yakima Music en Acción has created teaching videos, interactive opportunities and play-along tracks for their student musicians.

It is the nature of musicians to adapt and innovate, as ensemble playing requires the ability to listen, interpret and react while a performance unfolds. The YSO and our community are the fortunate beneficiaries of that nature.

(Thank you to W. D. Frank for finding and sharing the program and Yakima Morning Herald newspaper ads for the Anna Pavlova performance.)

• Yakima Symphony Orchestra staff write this weekly column for SCENE. Learn more about the Yakima Symphony Orchestra at

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