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Concert dedicated to deceased conductor

There will be no one at the podium for the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra’s first event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday’s concert will be dedicated to conductor and music director Randall Craig Fleischer, who died in August at age 61.

“This is one of the concepts Randy and I came up with as the first season after the pandemic started,” Youngstown Symphony Society President Patricia Syak said. “Then we came up with a plan B and a plan C. Neither he nor I knew what would be happening as far as reopening the building and what the guidelines would be.”

The idea was to do concerts with a smaller ensemble than the full orchestra to maintain social distancing on stage. Saturday’s performance will feature members of the YSO string section led by concertmaster Rachel Stegeman joined by guest soloist Michael Isaac Strauss on viola. He will be featured on Georg Philipp Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G major and Gabriel Faure’s Apres un reve Op. 7 No. 1.

“With the Telemann, Randy asked Michael some months back to do the piece and be the soloist on it,” Syak said. “We thought it was important to at least keep that part of the program intact.”

Strauss was principal violist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for 20 years and is a founding member of the Indianapolis Quartet. He has served on the faculties of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Philadelphia’s University of Arts and Swarthmore College, and he has performed around the world as a soloist, recitalist and with orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Other selections will include Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto Op 6, No. 8 and Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite.

“Rachel Stegeman will act as the conductor from her chair,” Syak said. “She’s not going to leave her chair and stand up on the podium. During the Telemann, when Michael Strauss is soloist, he will give the nod for the countdown. It will be very similar to what chamber orchestras were years ago.”

The lack of a conductor won’t be the only change from a traditional YSO concert. To comply with current guidelines, attendance will be limited to a maximum of 300 people socially distanced on the main floor on Powers Auditorium. The concert only will be about an hour long with no intermission. Overture Restaurant and the concession areas will be closed.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert must be purchased in advance at youngstownsymphony.com or by calling 330-744-4269.

“This is our first time doing these kinds of live performances in front of a live audience,” Syak said. “We don’t know how many within the community will feel comfortable attending.”

Another performance featuring different musicians from the orchestra is planned for Dec. 5, which was the date set for the orchestra’s annual holiday pops concerts. The goal is to do smaller concerts until the coronavirus is controlled better and restrictions on indoor concerts are loosened.

“I’m currently out looking for funds to continue this thing throughout the season,” Syak said. “We’re looking to do small ensembles on a fairly regular basis, and they’ll be fully underwritten.”

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