Reviews 2017/18

LaGrange Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Concert Season

Embrace LIFE March 20, 2018

A Splendid Sell out!

Performing for a sold-out Callaway Auditorium, under the direction of LSO music director and conductor Dr. Richard Prior, the stage at the Embrace LIFE concert was full of youthful enthusiasm. It was the first day of Spring and this concert, just like the weather, came in like a lion. Beginning with the annual side-by-side, the LaGrange Symphony and the LaGrange Symphony Youth Orchestra, filled the space with music that was high-spirited and dramatic.  The LSYO studies under the direction of Celeste Myall and these students were very well prepared to perform Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in G minor. Although in a minor key, this music has an enormous amount of positive energy.  From the first phrase, the great variation in intensity and feeling made it alive and vibrant. Just as dancers need to stay on their toes through this piece’s twists and turns, so do the musicians.  If you haven’t experienced the annual side-by-side in LaGrange, you are missing out.  As these young artists gain experience and mentoring, the audience is rewarded with excellent musical entertainment.  This Slavonic Dance by Dvorak will be hard to top next year, it was that good!


If you would like to hear more, the LaGrange Symphony Youth Orchestra will perform their Spring concert on Tuesday March 27th, 7:00 p.m. at Callaway Auditorium.

Next was Mozart.  The program notes were definitive, demystifying the lore surrounding the Mozart Requiem in D minor.  In a nutshell, it comes down to talent and money – and the problem of having one or the other, but not both. In summary, Count Walsegg commissioned this work from Mozart, which he, the Count, probably intended to pass off as his own as there were contractual stipulations that Mozart could neither copy the score nor reveal his authorship.  Mozart, who was low on funds, accepted the agreement, but happened to die the same night that several friends witnessed the Requiem was not finished. Without a finished work, Mozart’s widow would have to repay the front money. Hoping none of the friends would talk, she quickly found a student (with compositional promise and similar handwriting) to anonymously finish the Requiem, which she then submitted for final payment. There is quite a bit more to the long-version of this story, but even so, the timeframe is a little unbelievable.

Regardless of what happened in 1791 Vienna, 2018 brings a renewal of this masterful piece to LaGrange. Sung in Latin, a Requiem is a corroboration of symphony, choir and soloists all blending together, and is intended to be a musical gathering or service performed as a remembrance or memorial.  It’s meant to soothe the living soul with quiet beauty, ask for eternal rest for the deceased, and bring about personal renewal.

The choir chosen for this monumental task was the LaGrange High School Chorus. While the symphony is the glue, the choir is the workhorse of a Requiem.  You may think this high school chorus would not be seasoned enough for such a task, but you would be wrong. The LaGrange High School Chorus performed with power and grace, and made it look easy.  The Mozart Requiem is certainly not easy, but with the musical training and direction of Katie Westbrook Trent, they captured the sacred essences and gave an inspired performance.  I learned later that the weather had permitted only one rehearsal with the orchestra!  This is remarkable.  Surely this level of preparedness is the result of diligent work, direction with careful attention to detail, talent, and great conducting.

SoloistsThe solos were also intricately balanced with the choir and with each other.  Four guest vocalists, shown left to right in this photo, included Paul Houghtaling, bass-baritone; Bradley Howard, tenor; Beth Everett, alto; and Maryann Kyle, soprano. Singing with conviction and gusto, they effectively conveyed the spirit of the mass. They each met the dramatic intensity that this piece required. Individually they stood out notably putting their personal imprint on the music.  Collectively their harmony blended seamlessly.

The LSO held all of this together, mindfully putting the highlight on the vocalists.  From “Introit” to “Communio”, this mass was a great performance by all involved.  The overall impact was thought-provoking with notes of repentance, commemoration, selflessness and optimism.  Spring is a time of renewal, and a Requiem reminds us not to waste any time in hibernation.  Life is short, embrace it.

Here are a few photos from the evening:


Embrace the Spirit of the Season Dec. 12, 2017

“Music I grew up with”, “This was truly a fun evening”

The “Embrace the Spirit of the Season” concert – vibrant!

Holiday spirit was plentiful as friends and families gathered for this colorful LSO concert with guest artists Jason Coleman, grandson of Floyd Cramer, Meagan Taylor, great-niece of Chet Atkins, and the Young Singers of West Georgia.  Everyone in the audience seemed to know each other as multiple groups used this opportunity to have a holiday outing together with the people they enjoy.  Many were dressed in red, green, silver, and gold holiday colors, and I saw at least one Santa hat in the audience.  The LSO were dressed in their formal tuxedos but, from where I was sitting, I could see some fun red and green socks that made me smile.

With Jason in his brilliant red jacket and Meagan in her red shoes, the concert began with bright and lively instrumental medleys, beautifully enriched with the LSO.  They did many holiday favorites interspersed with several more recent seasonal ballads, and even East Tennessee Christmas, which was written by Chet Atkins.  This concert was centered on the idea of family and friends.  Both Meagan and Jason brought their families with them from Tennessee, including Jason’s grandmother, wife of the late Floyd Cramer.  It was a real treat to have her in the audience and to meet her afterward.

Jason Coleman and his grandmother

Here is a photo of Jason with his grandmother.

Meagan Taylor and daughterJoining the Nashville legacy entertainers onstage were their friends Don Dunham on bass and Kyle Covington on drums.  All four guests sang harmony together.   Meagan nailed several tender songs that were perfect for this season of reflection.  Her very young daughter impressively sang Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors.


YSWGAfter a short intermission, The Young Singers of West Georgia, donning festive scarves and ties, efficiently floated onto the stage as one unit and transported us on the Polar Express. Singing the signature song with a terrific high-energy train conductor was a great way to begin. From the same movie, the YSWG also did Believe, which was really beautiful.  Like a train is a single entity made up of many parts, this choir also performed as a unit.  YSWG is directed by Stacey Hardigree, with this performance of the Polar Express under the direction of Dane Bateman.  They then led everyone in a singalong of several holiday carols.

Full stage Dec 2017

(Click image to enlarge)



Again Meagan and Jason performed numerous instrumentals and ballads, including Windy and Warm made famous by Chet Atkins, whom Meagan affectionately called, Uncle Chester.  Performing with Floyd CramerAt one point, we saw video of Jason playing with his famous grandfather, and then the whole stage joined in playing as the performance played on the video.  This was not the first time that the LSO has performed in Callaway Auditorium with Floyd Cramer!  How wonderful of Jason, to also share this special Christmas performance, of he and his grandfather, with the LSO.

Jason has mastered his grandfather’s slip-note style of playing.  Beyond that, he played some pieces that were his own arrangements for full orchestra and piano, that were terrific.  Even he commented on the rich sound that the LSO achieved with his pieces.

What a great night.  Fittingly, they played, Last Date written by Floyd Cramer to sign off.  This was a multi-colored performance from the program cover to the many photos taken in the lobby.  This concert reminded everyone to honor the past and enjoy the present.  Merry Christmas everyone, and keep that holiday spirit in your hearts throughout 2018.  Happy New Year!  The LSO will be back in March.

Embrace the Classics Nov. 7, 2017

The LaGrange Symphony Orchestra served up a heart-warming “CLASSICS” concert with two works by Beethoven and the wonderfully famous Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg.  This was a rare opportunity to hear Beethoven’s Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus and Symphony No. 1, which are both great pieces that are often undervalued for live performances.

First on the menu was the Prometheus Overture that was both full and delicately flavored.  This is not a very long piece, but it has great variance and juxtaposed passages that amazingly translate into a strong, confident, melodious work.  There was nothing timid about it, and the LSO excelled at its vigorous changes in energy.

LSO-Nov, 2017
Miss Yannie Tan was guest pianist, performing with the LSO, for Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Grieg was only 26 years old when he composed it.  Yannie performed it at 16 years old, and did it brilliantly, blending well with the orchestra.  The Allegro is the most famous section and the audience loved it so much they forgot to check the program to see there was more to come.  In their defense, this happens all the time with this Grieg Concerto since the ending of the first movement is so dramatic, it sounds quite final.

Although young, Yannie is already a well-seasoned musician.  In fact, watching her play, it was obvious that she felt every note, not only in her delicate hands, but in her heart.  The second movement of the piece was dreamy and moved into the powerful third with its fantastic ending and its terrific last bite – a real treat.

Classics Concert Yannie Tan
After the intermission, Dr. Prior spoke about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and described it as a sort of bridge between Haydn and Mozart, two of Beethoven’s influential predecessors.  It was written in 1801 the same year as the Prometheus Overture. Beethoven was 29.  What a way to begin the new century.

Performing all four movements, the LSO brought excellence to the table in this piece. Beginning like the dawn of a new era, the first two movements emerge and build into the third and fourth. Perhaps because of the autumn season the third and fourth movements were personal favorites as the rhythms and runs gave the imagery of Fall.  The Menuetto had wonderful twists and turns like leaves fluttering in the wind and the Adagio included cascading scales, perfect for this Fall feast of music.

This was a wonderful evening of classics.  Miss Tan is an artist to watch as we hope to hear more great things from this fine young musician, especially with the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra. Taking this opportunity for appreciation of Dr. Prior and the LSO musicians – for you, we are expressly thankful!

Here is a slideshow of an impromptu photo-op to which Miss Tan graciously obliged: (note: Yannie is also pictured in this slideshow with her Father and Mother)


John Williams

John Williams

Embrace the Silver Screen Sept. 26, 2017

It’s no wonder that the LSO’s “Embrace the Silver Screen” concert has been the talk of the town.  This uplifting and exciting  concert, under the direction of Richard Prior, had power and punch that just made you say, “Oh, Wow!”  Composer, John Williams has scored well over 100 films and this concert was a celebration of his work.  The lobby was buzzing with a diverse crowd of all ages.  How terrific to see this level of enthusiasm spanning generations.  For many it was truly a family affair and a great introduction to live orchestral music.

Opening the season with a packed house and the traditional National Anthem was a rousing way to begin the series and a great way for the audience to connect and participate.  The evening’s entertainment burst into the air directly, with the March from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I could see joy and excitement in the audience.  With its infectious rhythm, it made you want to keep time.  Even the strings had percussive sections.  It was obvious we were going to be taken on a terrific adventure.

Next was the beautiful theme from Jurassic Park.  Lead brightly by woodwind and brass instruments, these tones were followed by string phrases with lovely, flowing long bows.  The piece had a monumental feel, and the composition was like a deep breath upon arriving at a mountain top view.  The LSO has always excelled in dynamic ability and here too, they did a top-notch performance.

The Jaws movie provided two selections in this concert.  Of course, the shark theme with its recurring anticipatory rhythm sequences with grabbing bass notes was larger than life.  Out to Sea/ The Shark Cage Fugue had a totally different sound, to offset the dark violence in the main theme.  The counterpoint melodies within it were very fitting.

I don’t think Maestro Prior got his wand at Ollivander’s shop, but the performance throughout a suite of four Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone themes was magical.  Approval was apparent from the audience with smiles and nods as the music began.  Without a doubt, there is so much more that can be heard in music when performed live.  A good example is in Hedwig’s Theme, where the underlying wind phrases in the strings subliminally register as just wind, but are actually crazy runs of notes that are unbelievable to watch.  Nimbus 2000 featured the woodwinds, which was a great treat and really gave the piece character. Music can really transport you, especially with a Nimbus 2000!

Lorna Wood

The theme from Schindler’s List was first after intermission and featured Concertmaster Lorna Wood, on violin.  This was a very hauntingly emotional melody from an important movie and was played beautifully.  Like each of these themes, it really captures the essence of the moment it describes.

Rounding out the evening were five selections from Star Wars.  Dr. Prior had commented at one point in his introductions that all of this music was quite demanding for every single section of the orchestra.  He also reminisced that it was with Star Wars that we met him for the first time three years ago when he was guest conductor. The Star Wars Suite for Orchestra was a great culmination to the evening.  With great power, “wow” moments, ethereal sections and gripping percussion, Star Wars was out of this world good.  The standing ovation and whoops from the audience confirmed a super season opener.  Bravo, to the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra.  Well done.

Here are a few photos during the standing ovation, recognizing some of the soloists.


Here is an impromptu slideshow from the concert.


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