As musicians across the country faced the devastating loss of live performances, conductor Wes Kenney came up with innovative solutions for his symphony. Now he’s entering a new season with “Reflections: The Emotions of Music,” which should be completely in-person with streaming options.
As COVID-19 closed recital halls, Kenney did her best to make musicians work and found ways to pay them when work wasn’t an option.
Kenney works as a professor at Colorado State University in addition to conducting with the Fort Collins Symphony, and is a well-known member of the Fort Collins community.
“Wes is part of the community, and that has really helped (during COVID-19),” said Ethan Hecht, principal violist and librarian of the symphony orchestra. “He knows the places, he knows the people involved. … Wes was really ambitious and keen to make sure that we could get the musicians back to work as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Kenney and his orchestra were eager to return to the stage, but much of that depended on local health restrictions and the safety of the audience. Alongside his team, Kenney prepared for a season that would allow for in-person and digital viewing.
“It’s been almost 20 months since we’ve had regular concerts with a full orchestra,” Kenney said. “Everything indicates that people are really excited to be able to listen to music live again. “
Kenney’s work inspires and expresses her worldview. This season, Kenney expresses the variety of emotions he has felt with his community and with his symphony through song.
Upon their return, the symphony features songs with emotions ranging from connection to desire to rage. From composers who made their arrangements in the classical era to those who write amid contemporary civil unrest and anti-racist action, the symphony strives to connect its audience to the present while learning from the lessons of the past.
While the classics are not forgotten in the new season of the symphony, new and forgotten arrangements and compositions are brought to light as part of these emotional performances.
“A big part of my performing career, which has lasted for over 20 years now, is the same music over and over again,” Hecht said. “Of course I love this music. It’s really cool to see orchestras go back and realize how much music there is that hasn’t been programmed or that has been forgotten.
Among the compositions on display is a piece by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, a 20th century noir composer who wrote the arrangement based on a poem depicting war, change and death. Additionally, Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner” is played in place of the national anthem and as a look into the future of what the national anthem can mean to all Americans.
“I hope (the community) will follow Wes,” Hecht said. “I hope they follow his introduction (to new music and conductors).”
“Reflections” celebrates the human ability to feel in four signature concerts. The shows are named after their most stressed emotions with “Fury, Contemplation & Hope;” “Energized, uncertain and triumphant; “” Solemn, joyful and ecstatic; And “Anxious, Tender & Jaunty.” The shows feature a mix of famous and lesser-known compositions, showing Kenney’s and the orchestra’s dedication to bringing something new to this season.
“You don’t always hear it as an auditory experience,” Kenney said. “It’s also a felt experience because the vibrations of a concert hall become so important to this overall impact on someone who is sitting there listening.”
With “Reflections”, the symphony aims to celebrate the new and enduring connections it has with members of the public while exploring how the past year has changed the world. Kenney believes orchestras have a unique role to play in helping us understand emotions.
“What symphony orchestras play explores all facets of the human experience,” Kenney said.
“Reflections: The Emotions of Music” kicks off its season with its first signature concert of the year at Lincoln Center, located at 417 W. Magnolia St. in Fort Collins, at 7:30 p.m. on October 2.
Guest violinist Linda Wang will join the symphony on stage to perform Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium,” and other performances will feature guest musicians to celebrate the opportunity to perform live.