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Featuring Concertmaster Daniel Skidmore and pianist Mary Ann Bills, the Salisbury Symphony debuted their first "Artist Salon" concert. Held in the Hedrick Auditorium at Catawba College and complete with craft cocktails and complimentary bubbly, the event was a great opportunity for supporters of the orchestra to connect. The performers brought a program of classics like Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" and the theme from John Williams' Schindler's List, in addition to some accessible gems like Saint-Saens "Havanaise" and a movement from Lukas Foss' Three American Pieces. The "dessert" of the program and my personal favorite was the ragtime movement from Claude Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano Trio. Simple and sweet, it was the perfect end to the evening. With a history of chamber experience from when Skidmore and Bills were students at UNC Greensboro, their coordinated playing came naturally throughout the evening.
To understand what exactly a salon concert entails, I think a brief history is helpful. The origin of the salon dates back to 18th-Century France. Organized primarily by women in their homes, salons were a gathering place for artists and philosophers of all classes to discuss art, politics, and science. Chamber music became wildly popular during this period as well. Historically, chamber ensembles had often been used as background music for royal balls and events but in the salon, chamber music became a subject of focus. As part of the performance, hosts, composers, and performers would often present topics of discussion related to the music for attendees to engage with. Without the Wagnerian stage, spotlights, or organized seating, the salon removed barriers and, in a way, presented music where the performers and audience were equalized.
There's no doubt Salisbury's "Artist Salon" concert was enjoyable for those in attendance, but for me, it felt more like a recital than a salon. The concert had all the conventions of a typical symphony performance but on a smaller scale. The lack of audience interaction, the unspoken reverence for the performers, and the typical concert etiquette all felt overly formal for a salon concert. Most importantly, I think that it is crucial to get away from the stage to enable the audience to engage with what they are hearing, beyond just applause. I think there are ways the orchestra can refine their vision for the series. In the event program, I noticed that the Salisbury Symphony has a number of partnerships with local vintners, breweries, and restaurants, which make great venues for smaller concerts and often bring in audiences outside the loyal attendees. On top of the booziness, salons are an opportunity to help audiences access the egalitarianism and agency of the medium so that they can engage in artistic discourse as influencers of culture themselves.
The Salisbury Symphony's greatest success with the "Artist Salon" concert was bringing together a community of people who rely on the arts to stay connected with one another. I heard so many groups during the reception reconnect about how kids were doing in school, how relatives were doing at home, and a general excitement about the special occasion to see friends again. After a successful debut concert, I hope the Salisbury Symphony enjoys growing success with the series in their next season.