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Savannah Philharmonic’s big birthday bash
Beloved local orchestra celebrates 10 years of music with an opening night spectacular
Peter Shannon, Savannah Philharmonic Conductor and Artistic Director - photo by Geoff L. Johnson

10 Years In The Making: Fire And Spirit happens at 7:30 P.M. on September 22 at the Lucas Theater. Tickets range from $25-$125 depending on tier, and the performance will be preceded by a pre-concert talk at 6:30 P.M.

SAVANNAH'S Philharmonic has cause for celebration. The local institution is coming up on 10 years since it began offering classical music to the community, and it’s marking the occasion with a big opening night performance for the new season.

10 Years In The Making: Fire & Spirit is set for September 22, and features a special performance of the first concert ever staged by the orchestra. Executive Director Terri O’Neil recalled the early days of the Philharmonic, which evolved from the Savannah Choral Society in 2007, saying that the idea for an orchestra was planted by conductor Peter Shannon.

“He, along with a few community leaders, had the vision to develop an orchestra,” O’Neil explains.

Shannon, the artistic director and conductor of the Philharmonic, was similarly the one to suggest commemorating the opening concert with an encore performance a decade later.

“It’s really in honor of the beginning,” O’Neil says.

The concert, which will feature Beethoven’s Fantasia For Piano, Chorus, And Orchestra, Op. 80 as well as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 In C minor, Op. 67, won’t just be a reprise of the opening performance. It also features a new piece composed by Richard Sortomme, aptly titled Ten.

“He’s quite an esteemed, well-respected composer,” O’Neil says of Sortomme, who now lives in Savannah after years of working with the New York Philharmonic. “We asked him if he would consider producing a piece for us for the 10th anniversary season, and he said, ‘Gosh, I’d be honored.’ We’re all excited to hear it. I haven’t heard it yet, so it’s going to be a big night!”

One major change this year in the branding of the Philharmonic is the decision to call themselves “Savannah’s Philharmonic,” which O’Neil explains was an effort to emphasize how much of a cultural asset the orchestra is to the city.

“Our mission is to enrich, educate, instruct, and build advocacy to the arts. That is all central to our mission,” she says.

- photo by Geoff L. Johnson

The new season, aside from their opening night performance, also features the Larsen Musician Spotlight Series – a staging of seven hour-long concerts taking place on Sunday afternoons throughout the fall and winter and into mid-2019.

“What we’re doing with the series is introducing it to students and young professionals at a ticket price of $25, or $175 for all seven concerts,” O’Neil says. “That’s an initiative of ours to introduce classical music to young professionals and students. What we’re finding with this is that families make it a Sunday afternoon activity, so that’s just one way that we’re reaching towards future generations.”

The Philharmonic is also reaching out this season in a big way – by bringing music to people in challenged neighborhoods who might not have the ability to attend orchestral concerts. Their long-running Philharmonic In The Streetz series, developed by the orchestra, stages performances in a block party setting.

- photo by Geoff L. Johnson

“For us, it’s taking music to the people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to the concert hall,” O’Neil explains. “We’ve already done it three times and it’s getting bigger and better. It’s one way that we’re giving back and making world class orchestra music available to everybody.”