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Sacramento Philharmonic opens mainstage season as merged organization with all-Gershwin concert

A new era dawns on the Sacramento Philharmonic on Saturday as it kicks off its 2013-14 mainstage season.

The first performance of the newly reorganized orchestra will have a decidedly populist and American tone, with an all-George Gershwin multimedia concert.

Starting off a season with a pops concert – for an organization with a recent history of budget woes – is considered fail-safe in the realm of orchestra programming, a perception that undoubtedly was weighed by interim executive director Jane Hill when planning the season.

Hill’s tenure ended July 1 whenexecutive director Robert Tannenbaum took the reins. Tannenbaum is charged with leading the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, the umbrella organization formed when the Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera boards decided to merge earlier this year. That merger was mandated by the tough economic climate for both organizations recently. The Sacramento Philharmonic nearly closed doors last season.

However, the orchestra is back, albeit in a much reduced state, programming-wise.

Tannenbaum’s imprint on the orchestra will have to wait for next year andbeyond. Nonetheless, he believes starting off the season with Gershwin will prove a “sensible” move, if not a defining one for the merged organization.

“Gershwin is a truly key figure in American music. He was a binding piece in a chain between jazz, classical, Broadway and film music,” said Tannenbaum. “He was the first composer to bring that all together in a uniquely serious American style. So I think he’s a great choice for this first concert.”

The multimedia “Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience” will feature noted soprano and two-time Grammy Award winner Sylvia McNair, David Snyder on piano and vocals and tap dancer Danny Gardner. Michael Morgan will conduct.

McNair was last seen in Sacramento during a well-received 2004 performance with the Sacramento Philharmonic.

Tannenbaum considers this first concert as more than just a pops concert.

“You certainly cannot call Gershwin a pops composer, solely,” said Tannenbaum. “Just as in the same way you cannot call him just a Broadway composer or a just a classical composer.”

He said that when Europeans are interested in representing a certain American voice, it is either Leonard Bernstein or Gershwin who appears on a concert program.

“Gershwin plays on every serious orchestra program, whether it’s his concerto or ‘American in Paris’ or ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’” Tannenbaum said. “All of these things play on the normal concert programs of European orchestras.”

Conductor Michael Morgan takes a more cautious approach to the first concert.

“Gershwin is certainly an evergreen that can be programmed at any time,” Morgan said. “This is a show I do not know that well but that I am talking on the strength that Sylvia McNair is involved.”

It will be Morgan’s second multimedia classical concert this year. He recently conducted the world premiere of Yotam Haber’s “A More Convenient Season” for the Alabama Symphony.

For the Sacramento concert, the music and lyrics of the Gershwins will be underscored by rare audio and video clips of their family, some of which shows George playing his own music.

Many orchestras around the country have found healthy ticket sales with the pre-packaged program. Included will be gems like “Embraceable You,” “The Man I Love,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime.” The orchestra will perform the Ferde Grofé arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The concert will be inaugurate the ticketing and subscription scheme for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera. In the new arrangement patrons of either organization can choose from opera or philharmonic performances for their season ticket package. The hoped-for result is that the crowd at the Community Center Theater will be a firstcross-pollination of opera and symphonic patrons sitting together, said Tannenbaum.

“This is significant for us ... knowing everyone that wants symphonic and opera music to blossom here will be sitting together together in the hall,” said Tannenbaum. “And I will be proud to be sitting in that audience.”

HERE TO STAY: THE GERSHWIN EXPERIENCE

What: The Sacramento Philharmonic season-opener

When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

Tickets :$16-$116

Information: (916) 808-2000; www.2intune.org

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