Along with fireworks and gatherings of family and friends, the Fourth of July in Newport means the traditional free concert by the Newport Symphony Orchestra. This year, there will no community-hosted fireworks and private gatherings are limited to 10, but the concert will go on — just a little differently.
Instead of a live performance, the concert will be an encore broadcast of the orchestra’s 2017 concert. It will air at 4 p.m. on KNPT AM 1310 and KYTE FM 102.7. That evening, from 7 to 10 p.m., the concert, along with a photo montage of previous July Fourth concerts, will be available for streaming at NewportSymphony.org.
Don Nelson, executive director of the orchestra, described the music as all-American, “a rousing concert” including popular annual salutes to the Armed Forces and members of the Newport fishing fleet.
“It’s great, happy, upbeat music that keeps your soul going and enhances everybody’s positiveness,” said Nelson, who moved to Newport in October from Stockton, Calif. “People have said they are excited they will be able to hear it. Many are sad that we can’t have the actual concert, but they are very pleased that they can listen to this incredible orchestra. The quality of the musicians in a small area like this is unbelievable.”
The Newport orchestra is the only year-round professional symphony orchestra on the Oregon Coast. Founded in 1989 as the Yaquina Chamber Symphony and renamed in 2004, the orchestra performs a series of concerts in its regular September-to-May season, and special events throughout the summer.
Earlier this year in response to the pandemic, the symphony orchestra began NSO To Go, featuring videos of musicians playing from home. That inspired the July Fourth broadcast and online streaming.
Conductor Adam Flatt says the July Fourth concert, which is traditionally held in the Newport Middle School gym, is the largest of its kind on the coast, drawing about 1,000 attendees – nearly half of whom take a seat on the gym floor.
Flatt has recorded commentary to accompany the broadcast between songs.
“The atmosphere of the live event will be there,” Flatt said. “You’ll hear the audience and the ambiance. I’m very proud that the tradition can continue over the air and on the internet even as we are restricted from meeting. That said, I am going to miss the audience.”
As much as the free concert is a gift to the community, it’s also a treat for the orchestra members, said Ken Combs, principal second violinist. Instead of the usual classical music, they get to play pops and patriotic tunes. They see people in the audience they don’t usually see in the regular season, including friends and neighbors.
“They bring to the orchestra a different feel than our regular concert series,” Combs said. “The concert this year – I think that is a great alternative. We want to continue to be in touch with our folks in Newport. Since we can’t do it in person, which is really a sad affair for us, the next best thing is to try to reach them through concerts we have done in the past.”
Had this year’s concert gone on as planned — a process Flatt begins nine months to a year in advance, the music might have seemed quite timely to many. Flatt planned to include selections by Duke Ellington and William Grant Still, whom he described as two of our most distinctive Black American voices.
“The program was made way before current issues,” he said. “This year, with COVID and the George Floyd protests, we need this; we need the warmth of community and we need contact with American art that reminds us of the highest ideals of our country. Going forward, the Newport Symphony Orchestra programing will continue to draw from the widest and most diverse array of compositional voices.”
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.