Eckart Preu addresses the crowd on the Eastern Prom in Portland as the Portland Symphony Orchestra performs prior to the fireworks display this summer. The PSO opens its season with concerts Sunday and Monday at Merrill Auditorium. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Now, it’s time to get to work.

After a long courtship, Eckart Preu and the Portland Symphony Orchestra begin their first season together with concerts at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22 and 23, at Merrill Auditorium.

“Eckart’s Inaugural” features only the conductor and the orchestra and a program of classics by Jean Sibelius (“Finlandia”) and Richard Strauss (An Alpine Symphony) and a lesser-known work by the English composer Lilian Elkington, “Out of the Mist.”

The concerts mark the formal debut of Preu as the orchestra’s music director, although Preu conducted the orchestra this summer for the city’s July 4 celebration and was a frequent guest conductor while the orchestra searched for a replacement for Robert Moody.

It’s not uncommon for an orchestra to bring in a high-profile guest to begin a concert season, but Preu opted to put all the attention on the musicians of the PSO. “No soloists,” he said. “We are going to focus on the orchestra.”

Preu, 50, is the outgoing music director of the Spokane Symphony, a position he held for 15 years, as well as music director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra in California and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He’s also been music director of the Stamford Symphony in Connecticut and held conducting positions in Richmond, Virginia, and Paris, France, and with the American Symphony Orchestra and the American Russian Young Artists Orchestra.

The Sibelius piece has a fascinating history. The Finnish composer wrote it in 1899, at a time when Russia controlled Finland and was imposing censorship. Sibelius was inspired by the nationalist fervor of the times and composed this piece with independence in mind. It had many titles to obscure its political nature and was eventually retitled “Finlandia” after Finland gained independence. It has become known as Finland’s second national anthem.

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