Hendersonville Symphony Season Opener Celebrates ‘America the Beautiful’

The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra is awash in patriotism, the colors of Old Glory and the rich tapestry of American music in its opening concert for the 2016-2017 season.

“America the Beautiful” kicks off the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s (HSO) 45th season on Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Blue Ridge Community College’s Concert Hall.

“The 2016 Presidential election is the inspiration (for the concert),” says Thomas Joiner, marking his 19th season as Music Conductor and Artistic Director of HSO. “Presenting music honoring our country’s historical events, as well as lighter works reflecting our spirit and ingenuity, will hopefully remind us of our shared heritage as Americans.”

The musical selections for the concert are varied, running the spectrum of American musical composition. “The music of the first half represents iconic American composers – John Williams, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland,” says Joiner. In addition, there are orchestral arrangements of beloved folk songs. “The familiar ‘Armed Forces Salute’ recognizes the service and sacrifice of our veterans.”

A highlight of the first half is Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Composed in 1936 and first performed by conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1938, “Adagio for Strings” was critically lauded, with one reviewer claiming it “full of pathos and cathartic passion.” NPR Music said that “the composition is considered by many to be the most popular of all 20th-century orchestral works.” The work may be familiar to some as the theme to director Oliver Stone’s 1986 film, “Platoon.”

Another stand-out selection is “Lincoln Portrait” by composer Aaron Copland. “This is a powerful work, which includes words from Lincoln’s speeches and letters, as well as original folk songs,” says Joiner. “The piece is being performed throughout the United States this autumn. The impact of the work is truly memorable.” The composition was commissioned in 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II. Copland sought “to mirror the magnificent spirit of our country” and “express his profound admiration of a great American” in music, according to one New York Times writer. Copland decided “to do a portrait in which the sitter himself might speak.”

Serving as host for the concert, and narrator for “Lincoln Portrait,” is Ron Whittemore. “I provide a connective thread and the narrative from piece to piece,’ says Whittemore. “I am provided a script and information and I turn into my own words.” Long considered “The Voice” of the HSO, Whittemore was the host for last season’s “A Blue Danube Evening,” in addition to being the featured narrator for “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and HSO’s sixth-grade educational concert series, “How Does Music Make You Feel?” Whittemore is a professional voice actor with numerous local, regional and national projects to his credit.

“I find it an honor (to perform with the HSO),” says Whittemore. “For me, it could be any symphony, but especially since it is my hometown symphony, I am honored each and every time I am asked to perform.”

The HSO has been a part of Whittemore’s life since he was a young teen. “I go way back. My mom was on the original board that formed the symphony,” says Whittemore. “She was a writer, a performer in local shows. Music and performing was a part of our household.” Whittemore studied music in college, playing with a variety of community bands, and he was a music educator for three years with Henderson County Schools. Tapping into his voice work, Whittemore was narrator for HSO’s 40th season.

The second half of the concert is a switch up to decidedly lighter fare, as songs from American popular culture are featured. Composer Bruce Healy’s “Celebration Fanfare” – composed of parts of music from various Disney movies – leads into an orchestral suite from the animated film “Aladdin.” Following that is music from “Frozen,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Lady and the Tramp.”

Special guest artists are Whittemore’s son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Sarah. Both are full-time performers at Walt Disney World in Florida and lend a real authenticity to the performance of the Disney works. For the senior Whittemore, it is joyous homecoming. “I can’t tell you; I cannot express how thrilled I am to have them here. To have these hometown folk come back and share the stage is a real treat.”

Adds Joiner, “The HSO has routinely collaborated with local artists and organizations including the Flat Rock Playhouse, the Carl Sandburg Home, Pat’s School of Dance, the Carolina Concert Choir, Asheville Lyric Opera, and the NC Stage Company, to name a few. Bringing guest artists back to the area where they were born and raised is a special occasion for community and family celebration.”

Single-seat, single-date tickets are $40 for adults, while a single season ticket to all five concerts is only $155, a savings of $45. Special prices are available for persons under 40 years of age and students. Good seats are still available for all performance dates.

The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1971, exists to enrich the Hendersonville and Henderson County communities with live symphonic performances and music education opportunities for youth and adults.

For more information, visit hendersonvillesyphony.org, or call the HSO office at 828-697-5884