'What you hear will give you a reaction': Symphony preps for opening weekend

·3 min read

Sep. 23—Sports fans celebrate fall because of the beginning of football season. Music fans celebrate the beginning of concert season for the Saint Joseph Symphony.

Symphony conductor Christopher Kelts starts his second season with the local symphony this year. Kelts came to the symphony at a challenging time: The COVID-19 pandemic had all but crippled the arts community.

"No arts organization in the world was prepared for this," he said.

So, the symphony did what groups around the country had to do. They implemented masking policies, they found ways to practice social distancing and they also dealt with issues specific to musical organizations with wind instruments.

"With the right measures and with a great staff that we have with the Saint Joseph Symphony, we were able to navigate and still have a full season last year," he said.

Kelts is a Missouri native, having grown up in the St. Louis area. He also had an extensive career as a musician, playing both viola and piano. When the opportunity arose to become the conductor of the Saint Joseph Symphony, Kelts said it was the uniqueness of the organization and of St. Joseph that drew him.

"St. Joseph has a professional orchestra in the city," Kelts said, "and I have been a part of playing with this group in the past, and ... the musicians are incredibly talented. The staff and board and donors are very dedicated. I wanted to be a part of this fabric."

According the the conductor, the symphony adds to the already strong arts community in St. Joseph. He sees the symphony as working with the entire arts community to continue building the importance of culture and art by offering quality live music.

"What we're offering is a unique experience for the listener," Kelts said.

He adds that he cannot "sell" someone on the symphony. Nor can he tell someone how to react to what they hear.

"What I can guarantee is that what you hear will give you a reaction," he said.

The opportunity to experience and react to the symphony begins this weekend. The season begins on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Missouri Theater. The season opener is entitled, "Beautiful & Brahms," and features a wide array of pieces, including Brahms' second symphony.

Kelts notes that his own attraction to music and to a lifetime of musical training (including an eventual Ph.D. from UMKC) started early with the same kind of deep experience he talks about.

"Music is one of life's greatest delights," he said.

After playing viola and piano professionally for many years, until wanting to try his hand at leading an orchestra as a conductor.

Being the conductor, according to Kelts, "is not necessarily about control, as much as it about sharing a musical idea ... So, instead of dictating what a musician should do, it's more of a shared experience."

He said he believes that leadership style transfers to all areas of life.

"They (the musicians) trust my ideas," he adds, "and I trust their abilities to create."

Part of the busy concert season includes not only this weekend's opener, but also a "Young at Art" event for children next week, a costume concert at the end of October and a special holiday concert. Tickets can be purchased for any and all performances at saintjosephsymphony.org.

Charles Christian can be reached at charles.christian@newspressnow.com. Follow him on twitter: @NPNowChristian.