The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Saturday night's performance by the Macon Symphony Orchestra, a Knight Arts grantee, was tempered with a bit of sadness. Less than two weeks prior, The Telegraph reported that MSO’s new conductor, Ward Stare, will be leaving at the end of the season. He was hired less than one year ago, so this season will be his first and only as the group’s artistic director. Stare was signed to a three-year contract by the symphony, but both he and MSO retained the ability to opt out of the deal within its first year. Stare filled the conductor and artistic director position that had been vacant for four years, and while the MSO board knew he was a rising star, they didn’t quite realize how fast he was rising.
Saturday night’s performance at The Grand Opera House, one of the most anticipated of the current season, is an example of the cutting-edge programing Stare was capable of bringing to Macon. The show featured guest musicians, PROJECT Trio, a passionate, high-energy chamber music ensemble known for their popular YouTube videos. The group is one of the most watched instrumental ensembles on the Internet with over 71 million views and 78,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel. PROJECT Trio is Greg Pattillo, flute; Eric Stephenson, cello; and Peter Seymour, double bass.
The night began with the ensemble taking the stage at the Grand Opera House to perform interpretations and original arrangements. Their sense of humor immediately set the group apart. The arrangements were, at times, almost caricatures of classical pieces with exaggerated notes and technique. In between each piece, the members of the trio took turns explaining the upcoming arrangement. Their stories drew laughs from the crowd, and intermission arrived too quickly.
After the break, the full symphony took to the stage to perform before being joined by PROJECT Trio. The second half of the evening was a wonderful and wild jam session highlighted by a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” arranged by PROJECT Trio and orchestrated by Sam Hyken. Other notable moments included PROJECT Trio’s “Winter in June,” a piece inspired by a summer ice storm in Colorado, and “Cherry Blossoms,” both arranged by Eric Stephenson. With Macon being the home of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, the latter felt as if it were written for the city of Macon.
Though Stare will only be the conductor of MSO for a single season, Saturday’s performance will not soon be forgotten. The collaboration with PROJECT Trio is a testament to the versatility of Macon’s orchestra, and a glimpse into an innovative and engaging future for the organization. Hopefully, Stare’s departure will not mean a departure from the forward thinking vision that brought PROJECT Trio to the Grand’s stage.