Missoula Symphony Orchestra Caras Park concert

Missoula Symphony Orchestra Music Director Darko Butorac leads the annual free Concert in the Park at Caras Park Pavillion this Sunday at 7 p.m. 

It’s always a contest to see who’s having more fun at the annual Missoula Symphony Orchestra summer concert in Caras Park: the audience or the musicians?

“If something happens, somebody dances or sings along, the musicians enjoy it,” said symphony music director Darko Butorac. “It’s an environment we don’t have in the hall. There’s such a big number of people, and all the musicians feed off of that energy.”

Around 6,000 people usually fill the reserved seats, hillsides, bridge railings and lawn space around the Caras Park pavilion when the symphony orchestra delivers its annual free performance.

In turn, Butorac adjusts the program to ensure almost everyone will hear something familiar and festive.

“It’s a mix of different music – classical, Broadway, pop tunes, movie scores,” Butorac said. “This year, we’re doing some really cool Hollywood scores. There will be two numbers from ‘Ben Hur,’ including the ‘Parade of the Charioteers’ with all the trumpet players playing this ridiculously dramatic music. And we have the score to 'Casablanca,' which has all kinds of great tunes from the French national anthem to ‘As Time Goes By.’ ”

Butorac is also keeping some selections tucked in his tuxedo tails. A tradition of the 11-year concert is producing a few audience favorites by surprise.

Audience members typically show up two or more hours in advance to get good seats in the park at the north end of the Higgins Avenue Bridge. The orchestra plays under the pavilion, and food vendors will be arrayed around the park to keep the masses fed.

“What we present in the summer concert - the energy of that performance and the attitude of the musicians - is the same as in the concert hall,” Butorac said. “That’s been a part of our success over the years. People realize it’s about the music, and not just what we perceive classical music to be. For people who might be hearing the orchestra for the first time, that energy does not change in the concert hall.”

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