By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Take a date to the Proms
On 150th anniversary of Forsyth fountain, the Savannah Sinfonietta debuts its name change at Picnic in the Park
Savannah Orchestra conductor and artistic director William Keith

AS PART of the annual free Picnic in the Park event, the Savannah Orchestra — formerly the Savannah Sinfonietta — will perform an homage to the well-known “Proms” light orchestral tradition.

“Around the world, pops concerts are an institution,” explains Savannah Orchestra conductor and artistic director William Keith.

“You’ve got the Boston Pops, and you’ve got the Ravinia program, and Philadelphia. The big thing in the British Isles is the Proms. They have the Scottish Proms, and the English Proms, and the big one of course is the outdoor picnic concert at Hyde Park.”

Short for “promenade concerts,” a prom describes an outdoor symphonic presentation where the audience is generally invited to walk around during the show; in Britain “prommers” also refers to those with cheaper, standing-room-only tickets.

“The Proms is a big chestnut concert lots of great opera, great overtures, warhorses, and light music. It’s a fun day, with a lot of engagement by the participants,” says Keith.

“So we’ve kind of crafted a Proms program, with a British/Euro theme. Some Leroy Anderson because this year is Anderson’s 100th anniversary. And we’re doing some British things, some St.-Saens, some 1812 Overture, and a few opera selections.”

Guest vocalist this year is Krista Wilhelmsen.

“She’s a superb soprano, and people instantly recognize La Boheme, so we thought this would be a great chance to get some Puccini out there,” says Keith. “And on top of it, she’ll be back with us again for a performance in February, so this will be a great little promo for her.”

This year’s Picnic in the Park will be the first under the group’s new name, The Savannah Orchestra. Why the name change? Bill Keith explains:

“When we started the Sinfonietta three years ago, we didn’t expect that it would unfold so rapidly, in that we would be seen as the heir apparent in Savannah for past symphony duties (laughs), those things that are part of the cultural fabric that were left devoid when the Savannah Symphony went bankrupt. Like Picnic in the Park, like the Messiah singalong, or the Levy concert at the JEA,” says Keith.

“Secondly, I think the name Savannah Orchestra kind of says what we do more clearly and more understandably than Sinfonietta. Sinfonietta is a beautiful, almost sexy little Euro name, but this makes it so there’s no confusion over what we are and what we aspire to be going forward.”

An added wrinkle of this year’s Picnic in the Park —totally serendipitously — is the fact that it takes place almost 150 years to the day after the unveiling of the historic Forsyth Park Fountain, on Oct. 6, 1858.

The genesis of the idea apparently came in an anonymous 1845 letter — perhaps written by William Hodgson himself, who would eventually donate the land we now know as Forsyth Park. The letter writer said, “Let these grounds be beautified with flowers, and fountains and statues – let the poor man when his daily toil is over, have a resort where he and his family can have an hour’s relaxation and rational enjoyment – where his eye may be gratified by objects of taste, and where strains of inspiring music may minister to his delights.”

A Savannah Morning News editor wrote in 1854 that “to complete the panorama from river to park, we only require a handsome fountain, to make our Bull Street one of the handsomest promenades in the cities of the South.”

On March 4, 1858, the Savannah City Council authorized the purchase of the fountain, installed later that summer.

Two days after the October unveiling, a Morning News account said:

“We heard but one opinion expressed by the large concourse of citizens who assembled in the Park to witness its performance on Wednesday evening, and that opinion found expression in terms of unbounded admiration.... We predict that our fountain will become a popular institution.” cs

Picnic in the Park

Main program at 7:30 p.m. includes music by Puccini, Tchaikovsy, St.-Saens, more.

When: 3:30-5:15 p.m., picnic registration

5:15-7 p.m. - Picnic competition judging

5:15-5:50 p.m. - Savannah Arts Academy Orchestra

6-6:40 p.m. - Skyelite Jazz Band

7:15 p.m. - Contest winners announced

7:30 p.m. - Savannah Orchestra performs

Where: Forsyth Park

Cost: Free