Orchestra’s Pops concerts a big hit with fans, old and new

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Greenville Symphony Orchestra

The Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s hugely successful “Motown” concert sent a clear message: Greenville audiences love the Pops series.

“‘Motown’ was absolutely electric,” said Julie Fish, the orchestra’s executive director. “People were so excited and engaged, dancing in the aisles.”

The performance, with 1,500 fans at the Peace Center, was the best attended of more than a dozen Greenville Symphony concerts, both classical and Pops, this season.

“People found me at intermission to tell me how much they were enjoying it,” Fish said.

The Greenville Symphony’s Pops series has been around only two years, but its popularity means that it will become a fixture.

“It is sustainable and has momentum,” Fish said.

The orchestra recently provided the Greenville Journal with an exclusive preview of its third season of Pops concerts:

  • “John Williams’ Greatest Hits.” The popular film composer’s music will be spotlighted in an October 24 program, with music selections from “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and other movies. Guest conductor Thiago Tiberio will be on the podium.
  • “Revolution: The Beatles Symphonic Experience.” The authorized symphonic tribute to the Fab Four on March 26, 2020 will feature top vocalists with full accompaniment by the Greenville Symphony.

“We believe we have two massive home runs,” Fish said.

Plus, the orchestra’s popular “Holiday at Peace” concerts will be included in the Pops package as well – for a total of three shows in the Pops series next season. “Holiday at Peace” will feature the critically-acclaimed vocal duo Diane Penning and Paul Langford.

The orchestra’s recent “Motown” concert, with guest conductor William Waldrop on the podium, took the packed house on a tour of big hits of the past, such as “Dancing in the Street,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” and a dozen other classics. Three featured vocalists brought down the house: Shayna Steele, Chester Gregory and Michael Lynche.

Dress up as Darth Vader or Harry Potter

The Pops series appeals to a younger and more diverse crowd – an audience primed for a fun night out.

The John Williams’ concert will feature a costume contest, something the Pops audience exuberantly embraced this past October when the Greenville Symphony accompanied a screening of “Ghostbusters” at the Peace Center.

“One of the things folks told us is that they loved the costume contest,” Fish said. “They thought it was so cool to be able to go to the symphony in a costume.”

“Revolution: The Beatles Symphonic Experience” also will offer special features – animation, video, rare photos of the Beatles – not typical of a classical performance.

The Greenville Symphony, entering its 73rd season, is an orchestra with ever-broadening appeal, Fish said, offering a large Masterworks series, chamber series, small ensemble series (“Spotlight”) and Pops.

“We’ve got the whole package,” Fish said. “We’re representing the whole array of what a symphony orchestra is. One of the things Pops has done is showcase the versatility of the orchestra.”

Ironically, the orchestra didn’t have a Pops series for its first 70 years. Much of the credit for the Pops concerts goes to longtime symphony board member Jerry Dempsey, who passed away in early March.

“He was very actively engaged with the symphony and said, ‘Julie, I’ve waited 17 years for the Greenville Symphony to have a Pops series,’” Fish said.

And two years ago, the Pops series became a reality.

An orchestra for everyone

The series notably has brought new fans to the symphony: 70 percent of ticket-buyers for the “Ghostbusters” concert were first-time attendees at the Greenville Symphony, Fish said.

The orchestra’s recent “Motown” performance, however, brought out both new patrons and longtime subscribers to the orchestra’s classical series.

“It brings home the message that the symphony is for everyone,” Fish said.

Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

If you go

  • What: The Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s Pops series
  • Where: The Peace Center
  • Info: Tickets go on sale at the Peace Center box office after May 25: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org
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