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Atlanta Symphony offers a sweet summer serenade

Big, laid-back crowd savors performance at Smithgall center

POSTED: August 6, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Mei-Ann Chen directs the orchestra through Dmitri Kabalevsky's "The Comedians Suite, Opus 26" during Friday's concert at The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center in Gainesville. Hundreds gathered on the lawn to hear works by Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, Johann Strauss Jr. and others.

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Rolling in their portable coolers and shouldering beach chairs in bags, music lovers of varied ages and tastes gathered Friday in the heart of Gainesville for an evening of music with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Some of the estimated 500 patrons brought brie and wine, others fried chicken and beer. Like a smaller version of Atlanta's Chastain Amphitheater, food, drink and conversation among casually dressed lovers of the arts was in abundance in the hours leading up to the orchestra's performance at The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center.

"I like it better than Chastain," Gainesville's Barry Strous said. "It's more intimate, it's more cozy. It's more fun."

Strous and his party of six brought "all the accoutrements" to a table near the front to take in the ASO's selection of contemporary classical, from the opening "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" by John Williams to a sampling of Broadway standards by Frederick Lowe and Richard Rodgers.

The usually oppressive August heat took a short sabbatical as the sun set behind the 70-plus-piece orchestra, set up on the patio of the Smithgall Arts Center, a block from the Hunt Tower. Turnout was better than last year's performance, with a respectable showing of 20- and 30-somethings filling out the audience.

"We tend to get younger people at the outdoor concerts," The Arts Council's executive director, Gladys Wyant, said. "We also try to make sure the music is not too heavy for an outdoor event. You don't want to hear a 50-minute symphony."

Friday's 10-piece selection, conducted by Assistant Conductor Mei-Ann Chen, included more familiar, accessible songs, including a rousing "Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copeland's "Selections from Rodeo."

"I think that's how you hook the people who wouldn't think they'd like symphonic music," Wyant said.
The performance, sponsored by BB&T and Tipton Construction Co., was part of the council's Summer MusicFest, which previously featured shows by The Jesters and The Tams.

"This venue is great," said BB&T Regional President Perry Tomlinson, whose company set up a hospitality tent for 100 guests in the rear of the grassy seating area. "Even in this summer heat it works."

Janet Marchioni of Punxsutawney, Pa., visited Gainesville on Friday to see her 24-year-old daughter, Toni Marie, play oboe for the symphony. She came away with a good first impression of the town and its modest outdoor venue. It was her first of three symphony performances in three days.

"The ambience is delightful," Marchioni said before the show started. "It looks like it's going to be a great evening."

Remarking on the $35 adult admission price, Marchioni added, "It's a cheap ticket to see a quality orchestra."

Retired East Hall High School band director and part-time Gainesville State College music instructor Mercer Crook rarely misses a performance when the ASO is in town. They've been coming to Gainesville to perform in one venue or another for 33 years.

"I think it's great for Gainesville," Crook said, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and reclining in a beach chair. "I always encourage the students to come out. That's when you learn as a musician, by watching great musicians."



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