What could be a better than a night out with the whole family, with caricatures, face painting, an instrument petting zoo, great food, and world-class music – especially on a crystal-clear, 70-degree night in Downtown Raleigh? The North Carolina Symphony kicked off its 80th Anniversary Season during 2012-13 with a free concert in the newly named Red Hat (formerly Raleigh) Amphitheater, showcasing a sampling of its best work throughout the 80 years of music the Symphony has been making.

This event was made even more special as Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Raleigh City Commissioner Phil Matthews both announced official proclamations, naming September 9th through 15th “North Carolina Symphony Week.” Grant Llewellyn gracefully accepted these proclamations then joked, “If by some great chance this is your first [Symphony] concert, then shame on you!”

The program consisted mainly of works that either had some historic significance for the Symphony or illustrated an aspect of their yearly programs, like the routine educational concerts which bring the Symphony into schools statewide. After a rousing performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide – and after the orchestra had fully adjusted to the unique experience of playing in a highly amplified outside venue – Llewellyn introduced Percy Grainger’s “Spoon River.” This piece was the first song that the Symphony played, 80 years ago, with Percy Grainger himself playing, so it was very special to hear.

Next came the treat of hearing a work commissioned for the Symphony, composed by its very own bass trombone player Terry Mizesko in honor of when the US Open Golf Championship came to Pinehurst. At this concert the Symphony played a beautiful rendition of “Building the Community” from Mizesko’s Sketches from Pinehurst.

Llewellyn decided to “fly the British flag” for his homeland of Great Britain in honor of the 2012 London Olympics with Arthur Sullivan’s distinctly British “Overture Di Ballo.” Immediately afterwards, he proposed that the NC Symphony try to “set a world record” with how fast the strings could play the end section of the piece, so they played it again, gradually speeding up and showing off the agility in technique in all the string sections – to the audience’s delight!

However, since the North Carolina Symphony represents the best our state has to offer, Llewellyn encouraged the audience to participate in a sing-along of state song “The Old North State.” He even taught everyone the melody beforehand, warning in his charming way, “this is your one and only rehearsal, so don’t screw it up!” The song was proud and strong, spreading the love of North Carolina that everyone present seemed to share.

Young children as well as more well-trained couples could be caught waltzing in the lawn section during Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “Accelerations Waltz,” and even during Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” The whole night was a great opportunity for some free fun that was accessible to everyone, from the most devoted Symphony followers who could sit up front in chairs to starving college students and couples dying for a night out with their young children who could spread out on the lawn and enjoy some fine music.