It seems as though cheering in the audience is becoming pervasive at symphony orchestra performances, at least if the season finale of the Western Piedmont Symphony earlier this month and a Charlotte Symphony concert last week are any indication. The same held true for the concluding concert of the Salisbury Symphony's forty-first season, the "Singing with Livingstone and Friends" pops concert, held at Varick Auditorium of Livingstone College under the direction of David Hagy, Music Director. Members of an enthusiastic, standing-room-only audience rose to their feet and cheered on the performers every chance they got. Now, this is not a bad thing. It shows that symphony orchestras are generating excitement, and this is evidenced by the record-breaking attendance figures of these three organizations, as well as many other orchestras throughout the country. It would seem that despite the doom and gloom predictions, orchestras are beginning to fight their way back into the hearts and minds of American audiences.
With one exception, the SSO's program featured music for orchestra and voice or voices.
The "Hallelujah Chorus" from Christ on the Mount of Olives by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) opened the concert. The Livingstone College Concert Choir provided a stunning performance of this lesser-known "Hallelujah Chorus." The singers' voices are rich and full and every word, vowel and consonant was crystal clear, which is saying a lot for an auditorium with terrible acoustics.
The "Polovtsian Dances" from Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin (1833-87) followed. This was the choral version, again with a remarkable performance by the Livingstone College Concert Choir.
"Summertime" from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin (1898-1937) is not an easy song to sing, but when the originally-scheduled soprano had to drop out just four days before the performance, Livingstone College freshman Le'Sondra Brown was able to fill in beautifully. She has a full, rich voice with a wide range and great control. In a few years she will be at the top of the charts and we will be able to say that we heard her when.
"Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, "Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha, and "Believe in Yourself" from The Wiz, performed by Michael Weddington, Neal Wilkinson, and Wandalaine Berry-Burch, respectively, completed the first half of the concert. Each singer provided a thoughtful and heart-felt presentation and received warm audience appreciation.
The second half of the program opened with the concert's featured soloists, soprano Teresa Moore-Mitchell and tenor Craig Estep, singing "Strangers in Paradise" from Kismet; the music for this comes directly from "Polovtsian Dances" heard earlier in the program. Both of these singers are professionally trained; their voices are full and rich, and they blend very well together.
Estep then sang "Anthem" from Chess, followed by Moore-Mitchell presenting "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess, with back-up by the Livingstone College Concert Choir. In addition to being superb singers, Estep and Moore-Mitchell are wonderful actors, and they portrayed their parts with great passion.
To complete their set, Moore-Mitchell and Estep performed the "Brindisi" from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), also with the assistance of the Livingstone Choir. Once again, an exceptional performance brought rousing cheers from the audience.
The orchestra, in its only solo piece of the concert, played "March of the Siamese Children" from The King and I, giving the Rowan All-County Fifth Grade Honors Chorus time to file down to the front of the auditorium.
This chorus, almost 160 strong, presented a medley of three songs from High School Musical. These kids, along with their teachers and parents, invested a lot of time and energy in preparing for this concert, and their efforts were quite evident in the final performance. Joining the orchestra were also members of the Salisbury Youth Orchestra.
There are three colleges in Salisbury, all ardent supporters of the Salisbury Symphony. With this in mind, Maestro Hagy was able to convince the presidents of each of these institutions to perform a trio for this concert. Thus, Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, President of Livingstone College, Dr. Robert Knott, President of Catawba College, and Mr. Robert Keeney, Vice-President of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, sang "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Dr. Richard Brownell, retiring president of RCCC, had originally agreed to sing, but had to bow out when he learned that his retirement dinner was being held the same night of the concert. When each man sang his part, he held up a placard bearing his school's name and logo, of course, bringing cheers from each constituent group. They didn't sing too badly, either.
For the finale, all six of the vocal soloists, the Fifth Grade Honors Chorus, the Salisbury Youth Orchestra, the Livingstone College Concert Choir, and the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra performed "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel, also by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Joining in the singing were surprise guests, the Catawba College Choir, whose members, seated throughout the audience, assembled in the aisles to join the throng in a grand and moving performance. Again, whistling and cheering came from a very animated audience.