Silver Linings Symphony - The Bend Magazine

Silver Linings Symphony

Performing arts orchestra perseveres through pandemic challenges.

By: Kirby Tello Photos by: CC Symphony Orchestra

The Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra (CCSO) was anticipating a jubilant celebration in honor of its 75th anniversary. Heading into 2020, no one could have anticipated a complete scaling back of such celebration due to a pandemic. And while plans have changed dramatically, the excitement surrounding the Symphony Orchestra’s intent to celebrate this monumental milestone this year remains significant. 

Dr. Mark L. Francis, CCSO executive director, said the real challenge in this change in plans is having to recreate everything. “Our staff, board, and musicians all have had to rethink how we do things,” he says. Early on in 2020, however, Francis started making plans for worsening COVID-19 conditions by implementing social distancing restrictions even before the city called for a mandate. Both the musicians and the audience were required to keep safe distances to preempt any potential spreading of germs. At that point, no one knew how severe (or not) the virus was, so Francis made the decision to be exceptionally cautious in protecting the performers and the community. 

As we now know, this pre-planning paid off. Along with offering socially distanced performances, Francis even thought about the financial limitations that could arise for audience members as a result of unforeseen changes in work status and income. However, the 2020 concert line-up wound up being rescheduled and reimagined for 2021. 

“We are looking forward to resuming concerts [this] year,” Francis says. Not only has the CCSO staff been stretched thin with the additional amount of work it takes in order to plan and replan (and replan) for endless potential scenarios, many of the musicians are full-time performers and have really felt the absence of performing – perhaps more than anyone else. Looking ahead, CCSO is planning to restart its programming using half of the hall at the Performing Arts Center and with limited performances, offering one morning concert and one evening concert on Saturdays. 

As one can expect, forgoing the 75th anniversary celebration was a hard reality. In a lot of ways, cancelling 2020’s performances turned out to be more work than the actual programming. “We were moments away from signing a contract with the San Antonio Master Chorale to play Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with us,” explains Francis. Talks of this collaboration occurred in tandem with the increased instability of the virus. “We had to go through at least two or three changes to what could be performed.” 

A normal performance would have anywhere from 60 to 70 musicians; now, attendees can expect to see about 35. But Francis said this reduction in performers actually mirrors the size of what a symphony orchestra would be back in the day. “In the times of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, the production would be smaller anyway. While it may seem limited to what can be performed, it doesn’t affect the quality of the music,” says Francis. This doesn’t necessarily make for a bad situation. The silver lining (if there were ever to be one amid a pandemic) is that some of the smaller pieces that would generally get overlooked are now getting the chance to be shared.

As a whole, the entire CCSO operation sees 2020-21 as an opportunity (albeit forced) to get more creative. The marketing team has made a concerted effort to increase their exposure and connection with the community. They have become steadfast in identifying areas to maximize every resource and make the most of what they have. In terms of future plans, Francis cannot predict where they will be next season, but he feels hopeful for a strong comeback for CCSO and every other performing arts institution in the Bend. “A city has to be more than simply its businesses and factories,” says Francis. “It’s the arts that make the community.”

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