After yawning through much of the Oregon Symphony's last two years, I'm thrilled to report that the 30-plus programs in the upcoming season are some of the smartest and sexiest shows to be heard in Portland this year.

It all kicks off this Thursday, September 3, in a season preview concert at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. There, the Symphony will blaze through a diverse program, including everything from Elgar, Grieg, and Dvorák to an unusual rarity (American composer George Whitefield Chadwick's Symphonic Sketches), as well as the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, featuring members of Oregon Ballet Theatre in full plumage. Portland Taiko opens the concert at 4:30 pm, with Portland Youth Philharmonic, under conductor David Hattner, hitting the outdoor stage at 5 pm.

There is a sour note in the Symphony's season opener: Although they broke all previous single-ticket sales records in their 2008-2009 season, our home-team orchestra hasn't been spared from the ravages of the economic downturn. Staff members have taken salary hits, orchestra members are in the throes of contract renegotiations, and what was formerly a longer summer series of neighborhood concerts has been whittled down to this single event.

The best news for the Symphony is what's ahead this season. Some of my favorites are the Mozart Wind Ensemble showcase (November 21-23), superlative pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Bartók (December 5-7), and Rossini's breathtaking Stabat Mater (March 6-8) with the Portland Symphonic Choir. On the pops side, Storm Large, Inc. takes her first bow with the orch on February 13, and the stylish Max Raabe and Palast Orchester, a sort of 1920s German Pink Martini, croon and swoon on February 24.

There's also a three-day mega-festival of Beethoven (May 15-17), which I'd usually put back in the yaaaawn category except for the fabulous lineup of performers on hand, including the Symphony's young concertmaster Jun Iwasaki, who has to be heard to be believed. Music director Carlos Kalmar begins his seventh season with the Symphony in tonight's Waterfront concert: Show up and hear for yourself why the Oregon Symphony remains the best new band in Portland.