Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra visits E-town

On a hot summer evening last Saturday, the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra heated up the Freemasons Cultural Center at Masonic Village with one of its free summer concerts in Central Pennsylvania this week.

Dubbed "Celebrate America, Celebrate the Keystone," the orchestra and its supporters traveled to Elizabethtown via Amtrak. Amtrak, Gannett Fleming, Hershey Entertainment, PA Trips by Train, Michael Baker and Associates, HNTB, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Trans Systems and McCormick & Smith all were sponsors of the evening.

Under the direction of Stuart Malina, the orchestra performed to a packed house, with Elizabethtown Mayor Chuck Mummert reporting afterward that more than 900 people attended.

The orchestra's program was a crowd-pleasing event and perfect for a summer night, featuring selections such as "The Barber of Seville" Overture by Rossini and the Olympic Fanfare and Theme by John Williams. The program allowed Malina and the musicians to get out of their classical skins, especially Malina who donned sunglasses and sang "You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louis."

Throughout the program, Malina was charming, funny and effacing, particularly when he "played" an old-fashioned typewriter during Anderson's "The Typewriter" with percussionist Christopher Rose sitting next to Malina playing the bell.

For a program that stretched over two hours, the orchestra's performance captured the heart of the crowd. From my perspective, the musicians seemed to feed off the energy in the room. Just prior to the Rodgers/Bennett piece "Victory at Sea, Symphonic Scenario," Malina had the crowd practice the wave -- and he and the orchestra members were duly impressed with the participation. And during the performance of the song, the crowd -- and the orchestra -- pulled off the wave under Malina's direction.

With two elementary aged sons, my wife and I were concerned that their attention would not last for a symphony performance. But the humor, the audience participation and -- most important -- the musicianship kept both of them at full attention throughout. In fact, my 8-year-old was so taken by Rose's drum solo during "Sing, Sing, Sing" that he sought out Rose after the show to ask about playing the drums. Rose was kind and generous as he spoke with my son and encouraged him to keep playing piano.

The evening started with the symphony and a few hundred supporters arriving from Harrisburg on Amtrak. After disembarking at the train station, they and some local officials ate a barbecued pork dinner at the station, braving the 90-plus degree weather and full sun.

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