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Citing the pandemic, Oregon Symphony announces last week it will not perform in person until June at the earliest.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Fans of classical and pops music in Newberg must place their desire to see live performances on simmer after a recent announcement that the Oregon Symphony will not perform next month as previously planned.

Fans of classical and pops music in Newberg must place their desire to see live performances on simmer after a recent announcement that the Oregon Symphony will not perform next month as previously planned.

Symphony officials had assured music lovers last summer that the January concert at Bauman Auditorium on the campus of George Fox University was still a go.

"At this time, Oregon Symphony plans to resume performances in January, maintaining the current 2021 schedule, and will share updates as necessary," Allyson Mars, the symphony's PR account manager, said in July. "As you know, it's hard to predict what will happen by then."

Then the pandemic found another gear and all manner of organizations have been ordered shut, likely until a vaccine becomes widely available in 2021.

"It's tough," Scott Showalter, symphony president and CEO, said last week. "Our business is predicated on bringing large numbers of people together in confined spaces for a period of time. It's not what we're allowed to do. Like everyone, the pandemic has been frustrating for all of us."

Officially, the symphony has not only canceled November, December and early January shows, but now everything from Jan. 9 to June 14. Holiday shows by the symphony, or presented by the symphony, have been canceled. All the great classical and pops concert through the winter have been canceled. All the special guests are not coming to a Portland stage.

The tradition of the symphony performing in Newberg dates back more than three decades to when legendary conductor James DePriest led the dozens of musicians in concerts held at the university. The annual event, typically in January or February, was sponsored by dental manufacturing giant A-dec Inc. with the guidance of its co-founder, Joan Austin. A-dec employees got first crack at the tickets, with the remainder being distributed to the general public via the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce.

While the symphony says it may reopen in June, it's more likely that traditional staged events at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland won't happen until September, at the earliest. Whether the symphony can perform outdoors during the summer, however, remains to be seen as there are many unanswered questions in this time of pandemic.

The setback follows the March furloughs and layoffs of staff and musicians, a move that was countered later when some employees were hired back using several million dollars from the federal Paycheck Prevention Program. That money, however, ran out in June, precipitating the July cancellation of the remainder of the 2020 season.

The symphony lost $5 million in ticket sales for concerts that were scheduled between March and June. It is now absorbing the loss of another $4 million in advance sales on the fall's cancelled concert schedule

The symphony did receive $1.75 million via the state from the federal CARES Act. The transfusion of money has helped an organization with a $22 million annual budget that has been pared to $7 million — or roughly $500,000 per month. There have been furloughs and pay reductions.

The marketing/ticket team has been kept in place, as well as the development department.

"We are hard at work at future seasons. A lot of work still happens," Showalter said. "We're communicating with patrons and donors requesting donations, and with people about holding tickets for canceled concerts for the future."

A big cost, he added, is health care for everyone — it's about $140,000 per month.

Like others, the symphony strives to hang on. Perhaps better news about the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions are in the future.

"I worry about the institution and industry and individual artists and musicians," Showalter said. "We have to get through this and be able to come back in full force."

The symphony has been aggressive about planning virtual events, including through its Symphony Storytime and Essential Sounds series, which are free to the public online.

Essential Sounds celebrates essential workers and is a partnership with NPR. Symphony Storytime helps educate kids at home, and people around the world have tuned in.

"We want to deliver on our mission as much as we can," Showalter said. "Share, heal, unite. It's important for us to give this gift to the world with programming people can enjoy."


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