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Knowing the score
Peter Shannon ends the Savannah Philharmonic season with a trio of favorites
Peter Shannon began directing the Savannah Philharmonic in 2007

Consider the health of classical music in our city since Peter Shannon came aboard to mold and direct the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus a little less than four years ago.

Nearly every concert in the 2010–2011 season sold out. Sure, the Beethovens and the Bachs will always put butts in the seats, but it’s more than encouraging that Shannon’s “left–field” programming choices — Elgar’s spooky The Dream of Gerontius and the complete Mozart opera Cosi fan tutte — were also tremendous successes.

The orchestra closes out the season Friday in the Lucas Theatre; the program includes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and the Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn.

Violinist Heather Cottrell will solo on the Brahms piece. A native Australian, she first played with conductor Shannon 11 years ago in Germany.

The Brahms, says Shannon, is “a big, romantic concerto, one of the best known in the repertoire. It’s grossly difficult, but it’s absolutely beautiful music. The first movement is very dramatic — and it’s almost half the length of the whole concerto. It’s 20 minutes long. Some Mozart symphonies are 20 minutes long, the whole lot.

“The second movement is very slow and lyrical. And then the third movement is kind of in a gypsy style, Hungarian kind of stuff – it’s really, really good fun.”

Add to this the pastoral Mendelssohn, and the dark, dramatic Tchaikovsky and you have another well–rounded Savannah Philharmonic program. All three pieces are well–known and oft–recorded classical cornerstones.

Shannon isn’t ready to “take chances” with everything he does. “We’re selling out all our concerts, so you could argue that we could do anything, since we’re going to sell out a house,” he says. “But I don’t think that’s true yet.

“In some ways, it’s playing to the crowd, but we still want to grow this orchestra. And the only way to really do that is by playing to the populace.”

What he’s talking about is a long-term game plan.

“I do want people to trust me,” Shannon explains, “but at the same time we are interested in having as many people in the family before we go forward with asking for that trust, if you know what I mean.

“So if I’m playing to the balcony, I’ll take that criticism, but at the same time I’ll make no apology for it. Having said all that, it’s not like Savannah’s going to have a glut of Tchaikovsky symphonies or Brahms violin concertos.”

Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra

Season Finale

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

When: At 8 p.m. Friday, May 27

Tickets: $15–$100

Box Office: (912) 525–5050

One–half of the proceeds from the $100 tickets will be donated to the Old Savannah Mission