'People Want To Come Together': ASO's New Executive Director Looks Forward To An In-Person Symphony Season
David Pratt has had a busy couple of months; he started his new role as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Austin Symphony Orchestra on April 12 and had to hit the ground running. Taking over for former Executive Director Anthony Corroa, who announced his retirement last summer after more than 20 years with the symphony, Pratt found himself planning a new season that has more than a few uncertainties.
Last season, the pandemic made full, in-person concerts impossible, so the ASO made do with some pre-recorded virtual concerts to keep connected with their audiences. This season, with Covid numbers looking better and vaccines now widely available, the symphony is planning and hoping for a return to normal, with live performances and full crowds. But, knowing that things could still change, they’re also planning to change those plans if necessary.
“I read headlines, I look at the CDC guidelines and other things… because we’re trying to at least be at a point where if we need to pivot at any time – to use that overused word – we can do that,” Pratt says. “It’s important that we have plans and strategies in place if there are more changes down the track. Hopefully not – hopefully we can get back to full capacity concerts.”
Pratt says he’s glad that the ASO did some virtual shows last season. “It helped us stay connected to, particularly, our core audience. And I think that was really important and critical,” he says. “But even so, it’s not the same as live orchestral concerts and having people come together en masse. And again, it’s not just to listen to music, [though] that’s an important part of it, of course. It’s that sense of community.”
Assuming that things go according to plan and the ASO is able to perform for full crowds again, Pratt thinks that Maestro Peter Bay has selected a great series of concerts. “When I first got my hands on the programming for the 2021-22 season… what struck me immediately, more than anything, I was like, ‘Wow, this is just full of great symphonic music,’” he says. “Kind of like the most beloved repertoire, which to me was a smart thing to do. Because when you’ve been essentially silent to some degree for an extended period of time, when you come back you want to make sure that you’re harnessing lots of excitement about what that season is. And certainly Peter Bay, I think, has done that.”
The 2021-22 ASO season, Pratt hopes, will engage longtime symphony patrons and also encourage more casual listeners to come out and hear some iconic works. “I mean, Beethoven’s ninth symphony – the Ode to Joy – it’s probably one of the most beloved, spectacular pieces of classical music repertoire ever composed,” he says. “And it’s so joyous. And I think that’s the key – when you’ve been through a period that we’ve been through, and in isolation, people want to come together and be happy and connect with… the joy side of emotion.”
Though he’s barely had time to unpack his bags, Pratt says he’s looking forward to finding some time to get to know the city a little better. “I am loving Austin,” he says. “I mean, it’s just a great town. I used to come here a long time ago, [but] it’s been a long time since I’ve been here. It’s not just the job; it’s where you’re living that’s important, you know? And Austin has got so many things that I love. There’s a lot here, and it’s got a great food scene and then of course it’s got a great performing arts scene. It’s got a great music scene. So I’m excited about all those things, and also to discover much more about the city than I knew before, when I have some time. And I laugh, ‘ha ha,’ whenever that might be! But I’ll make time, I’ll make time.”
The Austin Symphony Orchestra's 2021-22 season begins September 17. They're also starting their Hartman Foundation Concerts in the Park this weekend and planning for a July 4th concert and fireworks display at Vic Mathias Shores.