The Bangor Symphony Orchestra is pictured at a concert in 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Kirlin

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Rather than simply hope that concerts and other performing arts events will be able to return this year if restrictions on large gatherings are lifted, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra is opting instead to start its next season in January 2021.

The orchestra will kick off its 125th season on Jan. 31, 2021, at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, rather than the usual start date of late September or early October. The orchestra will perform the five concerts in the season over the course of about four months. The season will feature a few contemporary works alongside a number of audience favorites.

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The orchestra’s executive director, Brian Hinrichs, said he hoped that the later start date would put the orchestra over the hump in terms of when the most stringent social distancing requirements are lifted — and possibly within view of an eventual vaccine for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Those social distancing requirements, including a 50-person gathering limit, make it infeasible for many performing arts groups and venues to hold performances.

“We’re in good company, since the New York Philharmonic isn’t starting until January, either,” Hinrichs said. “Our concerts typically attract at least 1,000 people, so it just doesn’t make sense to gamble on gatherings that size being allowed this fall. A longer runway to safety, I think, will put us and our audience more at ease.”

Though the regular season will start in 2021, Hinrichs said that, provided social distancing restrictions are lifted, the yearly performances of “The Nutcracker” with the Robinson Ballet will still happen, with performances set for the Collins Center for the Arts on Dec. 19 and 20.

Some canceled pieces from the previous season aren’t going to show up in the programming for this upcoming season — but Hinrichs said audiences can expect to hear some of them in future years.

“We had been working on programming our 125th season for about six months before we were faced with the cancellation of everything from March onward for our last season,” Hinrichs said. “We had to reinvent things. There was no sense in trying to shoehorn in what we’d planned for this past year, so we’re working on bringing those things back for a future season.”

One of the pieces planned for this year that the orchestra never performed was “The Warming Sea,” a new, multimedia composition by the orchestra’s music director, Lucas Richman, and commissioned by the Maine Science Festival that was inspired by the effects of climate change on the Gulf of Maine. It was set to premiere on March 22 — but the coronavirus pandemic quickly put a stop to that. Hinrichs said the orchestra is working on a restaging of the piece sometime in the next 12 months.

In the ensuing months off, the orchestra has produced a wealth of digital content, including a video series of “Artists in Residence,” showcasing its musicians performing at home, a video series for kids and filmed recordings of Richman conducting concerts from previous seasons.

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The 2021 season will showcase some of the most beloved works in the classical repertoire, such as Felix Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture,” Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and a season-closing concert that will feature, among others, Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite” and Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”

Hinrichs said he expects the yearly choral concert, set for April 11, 2021, to be particularly moving, as it features Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — one of the crowning achievements in classical music, with its iconic “Ode to Joy” finale.

“The ‘Ode to Joy’ is a symbol of universal brotherhood,” Hinrichs said. “When we think about what it will mean to be able to gather again, and have that sort of cathartic musical experience, there is no better piece to encapsulate that than Beethoven’s Ninth.”

Watch: What does returning to normal look like?

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.