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Atlanta Symphony Orchestra plans outdoor concert
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is directed by assistant conductor Mei-Ann Chen. The orchestra will perform Aug. 1 in Gainesville.


Assistant conductor Mei-Ann Chen talks about the pieces that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will be performing at the Smithgall Arts Center.
For 33 years now the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has brought beautiful music to Gainesville.

And for this year’s performance, assistant conductor Mei-Ann Chen will direct the orchestra.

"I feel it’s important for people to come and have fun," Chen said. "Because I believe classical music can be perceived as serious and not as fun and I hope we are able to share with our audiences, and some of them are probably new audiences who have never been to symphonic concerts, that we hope to use these concerts as a way to share this art form with them."

Chen, a native of Taiwan, has been with the orchestra since 2007. So far in her career, she has served as assistant conductor of the Oregon Symphony from 2003 to 2005. She has debuted with professional orchestras internationally and throughout the United States.

Chen’s musical talent was discovered by conductor Benjamin Zander and Dean of Preparatory Mark Churchill during New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra tour in Asia.

"I played in the orchestra for the first time when I was 10; I was a violinist," Chen said. "The moment I walked into the rehearsal and started playing, I knew that’s the art I wanted to pursue. It was so fascinating to me that a person could inspire to create the biggest sound but the person doesn’t actually make the sound.

"For me it was a form of communication."

Chen said when her parents actually found out she wanted to be a conductor, they weren’t too excited.

"My parents tried to discourage me from doing conducting," she said. "They wanted to protect me from being heartbroken and not having a career. So I would purposely memorize orchestra parts going into rehearsal and just look at the conductors all the time ... not knowing that I was trying to steal his craft."

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance will be outdoors at The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center, which also is the last installment of the 2008 Smithgall Arts Center Summer MusicFest.

"What we are trying to do is to develop new audiences for symphonic music," said Gladys Wyant, the executive director of The Arts Council. "People love the outdoor venue, and they try it the first time simply because it’s outdoors and then also generally for an outdoor concert the music is a little more tuneful, if you will.

"It’s just a gorgeous evening, weather permitting."

The orchestra, which has won 21 Grammy Awards, is a 95-member orchestra that performs for almost a half a million people through concert series and music education each year.

The program selected for this performance will feature works by John Williams, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Johann Strauss, Morton Gould and Aaron Copeland. Works by these composers to be performed are "Olympic Fanfare," "The Comedians," "Emperor Waltzes" and "American Salute," among others.

"We are doing 10 pieces; they are all short but a lot of fun," Chen said.

The performance will close with Leonard Bernstein’s "Overture to Candide."

Selections from musicals "My Fair Lady" and "Sound of Music" also will be performed.

The orchestra will use the Smithgall Arts Center patio as a stage, and concert-goers will be seated in the lawn. Guests can bring coolers, chairs, blankets — and even order dinners from downtown Gainesville restaurants.

"Bring your own picnic and beverage of choice or order from one of our fine restaurants downtown," Wyant said. "Scott’s on the Square and Seabones are looking forward to orders as well as Luna’s. Those are three that are right downtown, and they can place their orders ahead and pick them up."

Dinner orders, which should be ordered two days before the event, can either be picked up on Aug. 1 or delivered.

Wyant expects between 700 and 1,000 guests at the event, and she said tickets can be purchased ahead and will be mailed out, purchased at the gate or picked up at will-call.