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The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra offered its audiences a special gift this weekend as it began to wrap up another season of concerts. Conductor David Hagy said it best: after two years of unprecedented struggle for the arts, the Salisbury Symphony pushed through, and its devoted audience has followed them every step of the way. As I sat in the Keppel Auditorium of Catawba College, watching audience members stream in, I had to agree. SSO's "Dessert Pops" concert was certainly different from their season programming. This concert aimed to pleasantly delight an audience with whom the orchestra has a close relationship with. The seats were filled with people who have been with them for years, as evidenced by Hagy's remarks on past conductors and orchestra members that several symphony-goers recognized. It was a concert that emphasized the importance of community, and music's powerful ability to create it.
There was something for everyone at "Dessert Pops." The program intentionally covered a broad variety of different areas of music. This made for a concert of eccentricity with pieces from Handel, Tchaikovsky, Sousa, and Holst…all in one night. However, if you managed to keep up with the rollercoaster of differing emotions, the orchestra provided more than enough entertainment for one night.
The night opened with a piece from Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. The conductor welcomed us, and like with many of the night's pieces, prefaced the first performance with an anecdotal fact about Handel's intention for this piece. It was intended to be played on a ship on the Thames. In order to capture this kind of experience, what a musician might feel playing in an orchestra on a moving ship, the Salisbury Symphony placed itself around the audience to immerse it in the music. It was a shock and delight to me, as the musicians' sounds filled the auditorium in a most impressive way. This was instant proof that tonight, the Salisbury Symphony wasn't looking to make a statement or create some kind of new art, it just wanted to entertain the audience.
And entertain it did. Highlights of the night included Debussy's "Clair de Lune," pieces from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, and "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets. A solo and a trio arguably stole the night, however. Assistant principal Liz Burns played the cello, accompanied by principal keyboardist Renee McCachren on piano and principal Helen Rifas on harp, for Camille Saint-Saens's "The Swan" from The Carnival of the Animals. This lovely moment was a sweet dedication to any audience member familiar with this graceful and elegant piece. I only desired to hear the piano more, as it was towards the far left corner of the stage and was certainly overshadowed by the cello and harp. Another powerful solo came from the strings section as Daniel Skidmore played the violin theme in music composed by John Williams for Schindler's List. The SSO did a fantastic job of underscoring the violin, surrendering with a gentle and eerie sound so that Skidmore's playing could be the absolute star of the piece.
The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra's "Dessert Pops" concert was a pops concert for the music aficionado, film geek, and jazz connoisseur. The program catered to everyone. But the real reason to go is not just the music, it's to experience community. I remember an audience member behind me whispering during the concert that "the whole town should be here." That's the kind of thought that keeps the music of our communities alive. Congratulations to the Salisbury Symphony for a pleasant concert and another successful season of music-making.