Seattle Symphony celebrates return to in-person concerts for first time in 18 months

SEATTLE — The Seattle Symphony and Benaroya Hall are celebrating a return to in-person performances, presenting a free community concert to mark the start of the 2021-2022 season.

For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, the Seattle Symphony is making a return to Benaroya Hall and welcoming back guests for in-person concerts.

“What you really need to feel is that connection with someone else,” said Seattle Symphony and Benaroya Hall CEO and president, Krishna Thiagarajan. “This is a place where no matter what you believe in, we can all come together and hear a piece of music and enjoy it the same way.”

Over the last 18 months, the symphony utilized online streaming to continue to bring music to its patrons, but only a small portion of the 94-person orchestra could take part.

“Every week was a different struggle because we really didn’t know how long the pandemic would be,” said Thiagarajan. “We were given the mandate to shut it down — we thought a couple of weeks, we thought maybe a couple months … it turned into six months, it turned into a year, it turned into 18 months.”

Now, by adhering to strict safety standards, Thiagarajan said the nonprofit can make a return to in-person concerts, just in time for its 2021-2022 season.

“I believe that Seattle has the energy and the creativity and the compassion to actually move forward after [the pandemic] in ways we couldn’t even imagine. I believe we will all come together and build a much more exciting and wonderful future, and that nothing can slow us down,” Thiagarajan said with a smile.

At Benaroya Hall, several adjustments have been made including an air ventilation (HVAC) system, enhanced cleaning procedures, hand sanitizer stations and contact tracing.

“We’re using that ability to improvise a lot, and at the same time we’re very, very strictly following all the guidelines to make sure that health and safety are always prevalent,” Thiagarajan said.

The musicians are required to be fully vaccinated and wear masks (if they do not use their mouth to play their instrument). Those who cannot wear a mask are distanced on stage.

“We’re back together again, you will see everyone wearing masks, but they are so happy to be doing what they’re trained to do. For them it’s a calling, they wake up every morning wanting to share their music with the audience,” said Thiagarajan.

Event attendees must show proof of full vaccination, proof of a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of the performance start time, or a negative COVID-19 antigen test taken within 24 hours of the performance start time. Guests are also required to wear masks and must sign a waiver at the time of ticket purchase.

The festivities continue Sunday at 2 p.m. with a free community concert and the unveiling of an indigenous art installation honoring the symphony’s use of the Duwamish Tribe’s land.

Some shows are also being made available online for free, including the Seattle Symphony Opening Night concert.