Breaking with tradition, the SSO dressed in psychedelic garb for Lee Johnson’s orchestration of nine songs by the ever popular Grateful Dead. And what a concert it was. The work was introduced by the string principles playing in a solitary quartet while the remainder of the orchestra ambled on to the stage until the full orchestra was assembled. With the completion of the quartet movement, Concert Master Wendy Bohdel led the orchestra into Funiculi Funicula, the opening tune used by The Dead to warm up. At that point Music Director and Conductor Sheldon Bair made his appearance and took over the conducting reins as he walked and sometimes ran the orchestra through 6 other arrangements by Lee Johnson of the Dead’s best known works. The visual effect of “hippie” dress and the wonderful arrangements by Lee Johnson enthralled the audience for the entire first half of the concert. Ending the “Dead” concert, the orchestra reprised Funiculi Funicula to a standing ovation by the audience and the applause of the composer, Lee Johnson. As this was the SSO’s annual side-by-side concert with 22 All-County Orchestra students, we were pleased to be able to share our psychedelic side with a new generation.
Directly after intermission, a chamber orchestra configuration of the SSO accompanied soloist and Harford County resident Emma Zyriek in two Arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Emma’s performance and stage presence was absolutely stunning in her portrayal of Donna Anna, described by Mozart himself as a “saucy girl”. Upon completion of the works, she was greeted with rousing applause and a bouquet of tie-dyed roses.
As the orchestra reconfigured to its full size, Maestro Bair took a moment to recognize the departure of long term member Anthony Belcastro. “Tony” played with the orchestra for over twenty years, and served as President of the Board of Directors for 12. Tony made his way back to his seat with the violin section to the applause of the audience and the orchestra. As Tchaikovsky was a great fan of Mozart’s work, Maestro Bair then led the orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartina”, which was immediately followed by the 1812 Overture. As is the custom of the orchestra, the church bells were “played” by hammering on tank wrenches graciously provided by Aberdeen Proving Ground. While somewhat of an unorthodox instrument, the tank wrenches are virtually indistinguishable when sounding (and a lot easier to move) than real church bells. Cannons fired, bells rung, musicians played feverishly, and streamers flew much to the delight of the audience, concluding the SSO’s 35th season.