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The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra leads off each season with a Pops concert. This year the theme was “Basically Berlin (Irving That Is!)” with a cast of ten vocalists and orchestra performing Irving Berlin selections in the orchestra’s new home at the Blue Ridge Conference Hall. Maestro Thomas Joiner chose selections from Berlin’s 282 songs that made “top ten” in the hit parade as arranged by various skilled orchestrators. (Berlin himself could not read music, let alone orchestrate. He composed instinctively and constantly.)
Noteworthy both in the arranging and in the HSO’s performance were the orchestral selections. Sid Ramin’s “Berlin Patriotic Overture” opened the program. Larry Wilcox’s “Irving Berlin in Hollywood Overture” opened the second half. The saxophone chorus in the Wilcox arrangement was a highlight.
Baritone Bruce Schoonmaker acted as Master of Ceremonies. Following Schoonmaker’s solo “Always,” the entire company of vocalists took the stage for “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Each of the other nine vocalists, chosen from open auditions that attracted 25 candidate singers, then had their solo turn, with Crystal McDaniel and Jonathan Ross also providing the duet “Anything You Can Do.” McDaniel (from Boiling Springs) was impressive in the duet and in her solo “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” both from Annie Get Your Gun as orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett, the dean of Broadway orchestrators. McDaniel sings the role of Annie Oakley with a convincing Tennessee accent that works beautifully.
Other highlights included solos by Daniel Seaman, Katie Chelena and Sandie Salvaggio-Walker. Mr. Seaman is a bass-baritone, a recent graduate of Furman University now considering further vocal study. Ms. Chelena is a sixteen-year-old junior at Hendersonville High School, and a member of the YouTheatre Conservatory, the most advanced group at Flat Rock Playhouse’s YouTheatre educational program. She is a genuine “triple threat” talent who can act, dance and sing. Ms. Salvaggio-Walker is a consummate professional who can always be depended upon to please, and her beguiling performance of Bruce Healy’s arrangement of “God Bless America” was the show’s finale. After the invited audience participation, the entire cast took the stage for an additional chorus of America’s unofficial national anthem.
The new hall has surprisingly good acoustics, considering that it was designed as a conference hall, not a concert hall. The only complaints I have are about sight lines (due to the flat floor) and a tendency to overamplify the vocalists. This was particularly noticeable for the first two soloists (Bruce Schoonmaker and Andrea Blough). The technicians seemed to have backed off their settings somewhat for the later soloists, but the balance still favored the soloist over the orchestra.
It is no secret that I am a fan of Thomas Joiner. When I first moved to the area, he was in his third year as Music Director of the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra and already well along in the task of shaping it into the fine orchestra that it has become nine years later. This year’s Pops concert once again demonstrated Joiner’s skill at crafting programs. It was a thoughtful tribute to the patriotism and humanity of Irving Berlin, one of our Broadway greats. The Friday concert, delivered to a sold-out audience of 900, will be repeated Saturday night.