Finally!

After more than 20 months’ absence due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Thomas Dausgaard, the Seattle Symphony’s Danish music director, is back on the Benaroya Hall podium — much to the jubilation of the pumped-up, fully masked concertgoers and orchestra that assembled Thursday evening for his first concert of the season.

It wasn’t a full house; the Symphony officially sold 1,194 of the 2,500 seats. Music lovers apparently are still a little hesitant about large gatherings. Everyone was masked and had provided proof of vaccination, but there was no social distancing.

But the chance to return to Benaroya Hall, with an inspiring conductor, an eager orchestra, and a terrific program, made a minimal risk seem very worthwhile. It was even a thrill to see some of the hall’s shops reopening, and a considerably greater thrill to enter the concert auditorium and watch the full orchestra assemble on the stage.

The long-awaited concert delivered a powerful musical statement, with Beethoven’s noble “Egmont” Overture and the mighty Symphony No. 1 of Brahms. In between came the soloist Alessio Bax, in a lyrical and unbelievably fleet-fingered account of the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Saint-Saëns. The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the concerto soloist: Bax was a replacement for the originally scheduled pianist, Nicolas Hodges, whose work visa was delayed due to pandemic-related travel issues (as Dausgaard’s had been).

Dausgaard entered the stage to a standing ovation, and gave a brief but obviously heartfelt speech about the joy of making music together again with the orchestra: “Music shows us what it means to be human,” he observed. The orchestra played with eager energy and brilliance: clearly these musicians have spent the pandemic months practicing. Their commitment showed in every phrase of the music.

Audience members seemed thrilled to be back in the hall listening to the full orchestra, with its music director and a first-rate soloist performing great music.

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Despite the fact that the Symphony is now producing concerts at full audience capacity, and that printed program books are once again available, it’s not quite “business as usual” in the hall. Staff must quickly check concertgoers’ proof of vaccination (or recent negative coronavirus test) prior to their entering the grand lobby. Intermissions are back, too; audience members are free to move around (as they were not in earlier pandemic-era performances).

And, thankfully, the conductors and soloists are increasingly free to move around internationally. The Seattle Symphony was one of several performing-arts organizations that opened their fall concert season without key personnel, according to a New York Times story. The backlog of visa applications at American embassies and consulates has especially impacted classical music, with its focus on the top international stars who tour the world’s leading concert halls and opera houses.

At Dausgaard’s direction, the Seattle Symphony offered free tickets to Thursday’s concert to first responders and health care workers, in gratitude for their efforts on behalf of the community.

Meanwhile, the symphony is continuing its online Seattle Symphony Live streaming service for many (but not all) of its concerts; the Dausgaard concert is not available online, though next week’s concert with the world premiere of a double harp concerto will be streamed. 

Dausgaard Conducts Brahms

The Seattle Symphony with Thomas Dausgaard, conductor, and piano soloist Alessio Bax; Benaroya Hall, Thursday evening (repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday; $39-$134). A shorter “Brahms Untuxed” program starts at 7 p.m. Friday; $18-$55. 206-215-4747; seattlesymphony.org

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that this was not the Seattle Symphony’s first live subscription concert of the season.