Some enchanted evening with Symphony in the Park

It doesn’t get much better than this: a breezy, late summer evening, clear skies, a world-class new park, and the Asheville Symphony Orchestra ready with a program of familiar music, all with no admission ticket required.

While there was some advance-purchase seating available up front, the audience for the Monday, Sept. 6 Symphony in the Park concert expanded far beyond the bounds of the paved area that doubles as a popular splash park by day. Camp chairs, blankets, and the grassy lawn provided seating for the large crowd that began arriving by 4:30 p.m. for the Orchestra’s 7 p.m. performance. It’s the Symphony’s 50th anniversary this year.

Conductor Daniel Meyer has developed a reputation for connecting personally with audiences, and last night’s performance made it clear why: He addressed the crowd in detail between pieces, providing an introduction for each one, and remarking on the handsome architectural surroundings and sublimely perfect weather. The financial trials and tribulations that have plagued the development of the Pack Square Park seemed to fade into the distance, as the Symphony burst into its opener, the Star Spangled Banner, and then moved into the oh-so-familiar finale to the William Tell Overture and the Overture to La Gaza Ladra (both pieces by Rossini).

photos by Jerry Nelson

Bizet’s Suite from Carmen came next, followed by oh-so-singable selections from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, and three movements from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Still more familiar music rounded out the show: the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty, Dvorak’s New World Symphony finale, and the lovely, magical sounds of Williams’ “Harry’s Wondrous World,” from the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  (Want to get that magical sound in your own music compositions? It’s the liberal use of the triangle!) The concert wrapped up with the appearance onstage of the Asheville Symphony Children’s Chorus, along with the Soundings Middle School Ensemble and High School Choir to lead the audience in a sing-along of standard all-American tunes including Yankee Doodle and America the Beautiful.

Sound quality in this open-air environment was quite good, with volume aided via microphones strategically placed onstage; the only instruments that could have used more of a boost were the cellos, which were almost inaudible and which really deserved to be better amplified for the resonant bass foundation they provide. Traffic noise might have been a problem for those seated further from the stage (let’s face it, noisy motorcycles permitted to operate within city limits are going to drown out almost everything else that might need to be heard). And then there was the moment when a fire truck answered a call from the fire station next door, its siren bawling as it emerged and slowly passed the concert venue. But conductor Meyer simply held the orchestra a tad longer on a convenient pause written into the score — grinning at the audience as he did so — before launching everyone back into the piece as soon as the vehicle rounded the masonry wall of the County Building.

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