In the race to enrich Salem’s fine arts culture, the local classical music scene continues to capture my attention. Publishing a piece in February about the newest organization in town, Salem Symphony, it was worth revisiting my initial conversation with Christopher Noel, the Associate Conductor of the Symphony.
When I first interviewed Noel for the February article, we discussed the inner workings of Salem’s numerous classical performing organizations. I was surprised to learn just how many groups perform year-round in the greater Salem area. According to Noel, there are eight regularly-performing groups of classically trained musicians in Salem: Chemeketa Orchestra, Festival Chorale, Oregon Symphony Salem, Salem Concert Band, Salem Philarmonia Orchestra, Salem Pops, Salem Symphony, and Salem Youth Symphony, each with their own unique makeup and repertoire.
Noel states there was indeed a prominent classical music presence in Salem for some time, with the Salem Chamber Orchestra serving the community as “the” professional orchestra for the past 31 years. “However,” he told me, “with their decision to disband in late 2015, there was no true, professional orchestra for Salem going forward.” (Note: “professional” indicates that the musicians are paid, trained professionals, not volunteers. The majority of Salem’s classical organizations are community and/or volunteer groups.)
Insert Salem Symphony. Noel admitted their initial performance in December 2016 was a rocky start, and there was certainly some concern whether the group could survive if there was another performance of that caliber, which is a universal struggle for all musical groups. Come 2017, with the massive overhaul of their string musicians, the Salem Symphony sounded like an entirely new group of professional players. Their debut performance in February, featuring Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” was so well received by the community that it subconsciously launched a widespread, word-of-mouth promotional campaign for classical music in the Salem area.
Having attended the concert with a fellow retired musician, I was blown away by the sheer quality and caliber at which the Salem Symphony performed. My colleague and I both agreed that this was something new and refreshing to experience in Salem. Something worth talking about and returning for simply based upon how utterly impressed we were to experience something of such…professional excellence.
This is not to say that the other seven organizations are without credibility or talent. But, with Salem Symphony drawing a curious crowd (being the new kids on the block), there was a reality check that occurred with the appearance of their group in the local classical music scene.
I flagged this phenomena to Noel, who, being involved with most organizations, agreed that there seems to be a shift in the attention received by Salem’s fine arts music.
“I think that the Salem Symphony will help promote and ignite the classical music scene in Salem,” Noel said. “A rising tide lifts all boats, and if one group does well, we all do well.”
What’s so great about this sudden potential for classical music to regain its former glory, is that it could really put Salem on the map in the music community. And not just locally, but internationally as well. With professional-grade performances and musicians, Salem would attract world-renowned soloists that would bring revenue and notoriety to our music organizations. For example, Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of our time, will be coming to perform at the Historic Elsinore on May 24th this year (e.g. Salem is awesome).
Things are really starting to take shape in Salem’s search for cultural development. Based upon my conversation with Noel, there is far more happening behind the scenes in our performance halls than people realize. There are numerous businesses and organizations and individuals who are hard at work to see Salem reach her full cultural potential. Keep an eye on our Events Calendar, and follow each of our local classical organizations to stay up to date with how Salem’s classical experience is being redefined.
The Salem Weekly Events Calendar now offers a “Fine Arts” section, which highlights both the cultural and classical music scene. Please attend and support your local fine arts performances year-round!