This article was originally published on June 11, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For 461 days, there’s been no roaring applause at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, only a hollow hall with seats unfilled.

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But Friday night marked a homecoming for the Minnesota Orchestra, as it welcomed a live audience for the first time since it was forced to shutter last spring.

“There are very few things in the world that can match the applause of 2,000 people when this orchestra is playing, and losing that has been the hardest part,” said Grant Meachum, director of the Live at Orchestra Hall series. “Being able to get that back, it feels like another step toward whatever normal the world is going to be like.”

The last show with people was March 7, 2020. The Orchestra has, and still does, offer virtual performances online. It had to adapt in the pandemic to stay afloat. But the experience isn’t the same hearing the melodies start to play in-person in that space in downtown Minneapolis.

When the musicians came on stage in unison — which doesn’t typically happen, but was a symbolic gesture for the Orchestra’s return — the audience gave a standing ovation with roaring applause once again.

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“It feels wonderful it really does,” said Margaret Karel of Shoreview, who went to the show with her family for a delayed birthday celebration.

For the musicians, the milestone is significant professionally and personally — having weathered the pandemic like everyone else.

“My extrovert and human-loving side is malnourished, and I’m really excited to get back to performing and seeing people. Because that is what we want to do, is share our music and share why we love this music,” Erich Rieppel, who plays the timpani, said.

There’s still some pandemic-era safety provisions: the venue at 25% capacity right now, and in July and August it will increase to 50% capacity. But by September, Orchestra Hall hopes there will be a packed house. Masks are still required but venue management will review the policy for July.

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The mask mandate has lifted in the state and Minneapolis.

Caroline Cummings