Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra prepares for a grand return

RIDGEFIELD — The last time the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra performed as a full ensemble was Feb. 22, 2020, just weeks before the pandemic took hold in the U.S.

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions loosen across the country, RSO’s musicians are preparing to perform in front of live audiences once again.

“(This is) a huge comeback after what will be 19 months off the stage,” Executive Director Laurie Kenagy said. “We made it through the pandemic with creative ways of presenting music and now want to celebrate (our) return ... with the community.”

The upcoming season kicks off on Oct. 2 with an “incredible” world premiere multiple years in the making, Kenagy said. In addition to Jean Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 7,” audiences will be treated to an original song cycle called “A More Perfect Union.”

The piece is based on the speeches of former President Barack Obama and the brainchild of RSO composer Paul Frucht. When he began its development back in 2018, board members mentioned a Ridgefield High School graduate who would be a perfect match for the project.

Cody Keenan, who served as the White House director of speechwriting during Obama’s second term, was roped in to collaborate on “A More Perfect Union” in late 2018.

“Having the Ridgefield tie to that piece is really cool and totally coincidental,” Kenagy said.

The composers chose snippets of speeches that contain universal ideals about thoughtfulness, plurality, unity, spirituality and the way we approach faith, Frucht said.

The first movement, for example, includes a line from Obama’s first inaugural address in January 2009: “A man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

“As a composer you want to make an audience member think more deeply or feel something about a (certain) moment in their lives,” Frucht said, “and I hope that this piece does that.”

Playing along

Last year, RSO started hosting small, socially distanced chamber concerts at the Aldrich and Keeler Tavern museums to offer residents a moment of music amid the uncertain times. That December, it donated all the proceeds from its All Hearts Holiday Auction to its members, some of whom are full-time musicians.

“We were able to make it through this past year because the friends and donors of the RSO were able to support the orchestra even though we weren’t playing,” Kenagy said. “To me (that) just shows you how much this community values the arts.”

Kenagy anticipates that audiences will be able to enjoy a normal concert experience once the season gets underway. All 65 members of the orchestra will play together on stage while those who are concerned or not vaccinated “likely won’t play,” she said.

Each performance will also be professionally recorded to give patrons the option to purchase tickets and attend virtually.

The repertoire includes classical music “monsters” like Brahms, Mahler and Beethoven, as well as more contemporary arrangements, Kenagy said. Audiences can also expect accompaniment from world-class soloists like bass-baritone Kenneth Kellogg.

A full description of the 2021-22 season can be found at ridgefieldsymphony.org/concert-tickets.

Frucht considered what audiences may feel upon attending RSO’s first concert in almost 20 months.

“What I would hope is that when people sit down in the concert hall, they ... take satisfaction in having this collective experience,” he said. “I feel immense gratitude for the people that got us here.”