One night, it was the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s virtual fundraiser “Forte,” the next two nights it would be “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

That’s what the Saco Drive-In sign proclaimed as music lovers turned off Route 1 on May 13 and were greeted with the burst of a trumpet.

“Forte,” which means “strong or loud,” was the symphony’s first in-person event since March 2020, and some music lovers were fully vaccinated and ready to mingle outdoors, posing for photos with friends. Others cracked open their windows and stopped munching on M&Ms and popcorn from their goodie bags long enough to hear violinist Mina Lavcheva perform pre-concert serenades curbside.

Admission was $50 a carload, with about 75 cars in attendance. Another 150 households signed up to watch the presentation online at $15 per registration. Viewers were encouraged to bid in an online auction, which included a few quirky items like a pingpong match with Music Director Eckart Preu and a lesson on making Armenian cheese boreg with Executive Director Carolyn Nishon. Altogether, “Forte” raised more than $38,000 to support PSO musicians, performances and education programs.

“We do a wine dinner auction most years, and we weren’t going to be able to do that,” said trustee Ellie Osborn of Saco, sitting in an open hatchback with a plaid blanket.

The one-hour livestream produced by AV Technik included musicians introducing some of the season’s greatest hits, such as principal harpist Ina Zdorovetchi in the fourth movement of Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s harp concerto “Máscaras” (“Masks”).

Contrabassoonist Margaret Phillips gave a light-hearted introduction to her heavy instrument with the lowest range in the woodwind section, saying that it is commonly used in cartoons like “The Flintstones” and in “TV ads, usually for products to help you with dyspepsia.”

And, in the privacy of their cars, folk fans were free to sing along with Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) in a PSO rendition of his “Wedding Song (There Is Love).”

“If you asked me a year and a half ago if the PSO would be doing an annual fundraiser at the drive-in, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Nishon said. “But it created an experience that allowed us to convey our mission and share what we’ve been trying to do.”

Since October, the PSO has livestreamed more than 15 digital concerts on Portland Symphony TV. Viewers from 37 states and counting have purchased tickets and watched from home. Statistics reveal an impressive 20,000 views with 700,000 minutes watched.

“The platform is similar to Hulu or Netflix, with that same level of ease,” said Gusta Johnson, director of marketing and communications. “We want people to get the best experience, both audio and visual, during this season of being completely digital.”

As Johnson pointed out, being at the drive-in was emblematic of the innovative approaches taken this season. Although the visual quality might not be as clear at the drive-in as on portlandsymphonytv.com, it certainly is larger than life. And where else can you honk your horn as a form of applause?

With an event called “Forte,” that was to be expected.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].


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