She kept the curtains up at the Dallas Symphony during the pandemic


This would be the year the Dallas Symphony Orchestra welcomed a new music director, Fabio Luisi, and proved that the organization could continue to build on the foundations left by popular director Jaap van Zweden. This should be the year the symphony showed the world that it can shine under a new baton. And it certainly did, just not as anyone expected it to be.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is the only orchestra in the country that has found a way to run a full, regular schedule of personal concerts amid the pandemic without spreading the disease through its halls. This not only required rearranging the music for a smaller orchestra or selling fewer tickets. Every process had to be rebuilt, from redesigning concerts to finding space for musicians to behind-the-scenes social distance and introducing daily COVID-19 tests.

The person who insisted the show go on and not rest until their organization was rebuilt during a pandemic to serve their community is DSO executive director Kim Noltemy. For her exceptional commitment to live orchestral music and art, Noltemy is a finalist for Texan of the Year.

“I firmly believe in the entire connection between audience and orchestra,” said Noltemy in an interview. “It’s different when it’s an empty hall.”

Dallas Symphony President and CEO Kim Noltemy is pictured at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on August 31, 2018. (Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News)(Louis DeLuca / employee photographer)

The concerts had to be fundamentally changed to meet the rules of social distancing. Fewer musicians on stage and 200 spectators in a hall with 1,800 seats. It usually takes the DSO nine months to plan a season. They only had a few weeks to discard these plans and come up with something new.

The DSO’s artistic directors, Peter Czornyj and Luisi, had to convert each concert for a smaller orchestra, changing pieces that could work with fewer musicians and those who couldn’t. This meant that musicians had to learn new pieces quickly.

And then there are the symphony operations that the audience doesn’t see. Noltemy worked with UT Southwestern Medical Center to conduct daily rapid tests on musicians and staff. She worked with donors to install technology for live streaming concerts and developed a digital strategy that thrives on the past of COVID. Your team had to rethink almost every aspect of their work.

She did it all as a relative newcomer in Dallas. Noltemy joined the DSO in 2018 from the Boston Symphony where she was Operations Chief. Before the pandemic, she had implemented the Women in Classical Music program and a music education initiative in South Dallas.

And she did it all in a season that should focus on welcoming a new music director. About Luisi’s debut concert, she said: “Even if it wasn’t what we wanted or planned or hoped for, it was still a great victory.”

This also describes the DSO’s pandemic performance, which is why we are delighted to support Notelmy as a finalist of the 2020 Texan of the Year.

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