Greenville Symphony Orchestra
Guest conductor Thiago Tiberio and the Greenville Symphony earned a standing ovation at the conclusion of “John Williams’ Greatest Hits.” Photo by David Pol eski Design Photography

No doubt about it, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s Pops series is a winner.

The orchestra’s recent Pops performance of “John Williams Greatest Hits” attracted both longtime concert-goers and millennial music fans.

The Peace Center was packed for the spectacular concert of Williams’ music, familiar from such film scores as “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Jurassic Park” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Many in the audience were attending their first concert ever by the orchestra, officials said.

This is exactly what a symphony orchestra should be doing in 2019: enlarging its musical vision to reach out to new audiences from all walks of life.

In its 73rd season, the Greenville Symphony continues to grow, evolve and diversify.

Classical concerts, of course, remain the orchestra’s bread and butter. For longtime concert-goers, the orchestra offers a Masterworks series featuring the big romantic works, a Chamber series for smaller-scale concerts, and an intimate small ensemble series (“Spotlight”) as well. In addition, the orchestra performs dozens of children’s programs every year.

The Pops series, now two years old, greatly broadens the orchestra’s appeal.

It took a while, of course, to come about — 70 years, in fact. Credit for the Pops concerts goes to longtime symphony board member Jerry Dempsey, who passed away in early March. Equal credit goes to Julie Fish, the orchestra’s executive director, who made the series a reality.

The orchestra will offer two more Pops programs this season:

  • The popular “Holiday at Peace” concerts, Dec. 20–22, will feature the critically-acclaimed vocal duo Diane Penning and Paul Langford. “Holiday at Peace” concerts have been a longtime fixture, but only recently became part of the Pops series.
  • “Revolution: The Beatles Symphonic Experience,”the authorized symphonic tribute to the Fab Four, will feature top-notch vocalists with full accompaniment by the Greenville Symphony on March 26, 2020. The rockin’ concert will offer special features, including animation, video, rare photos of the Beatles.

Jubilant John Williams

Concertmaster Laura Colgate dressed as Harry Potter for the Greenville Symphony’s performance of “John Williams’ Greatest Hits. David Poleski Design Photography

With its Halloween theme, the Oct. 24 John Williams concert was jubilant. A costume contest encouraged both adults and children to dress up like characters from films associated with Williams’ music.

Darth Vader was in the audience. And Indiana Jones. Other characters from “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” seemed particularly popular.

And the orchestra got into the act, too. Concertmaster Laura Colgate was Harry Potter. The harpist came as Dumbledore. Also spotted in the orchestra: Superman, Jaws the shark, and Dobby the house-elf.

Guest conductor Thiago Tiberio led a spirited performance of Williams’ dynamic works. It’s easy to see why Williams’ music is so accessible: He knows how to write a soaring melody and a thrilling, brassy march. A listener was reminded of how much Williams owes to British composers such as Holst and Elgar. Williams is a hugely popular composer but firmly rooted in classical tradition.

Dancing with ‘Motown’

An earlier Pops performance, the orchestra’s “Motown” concert this past spring, proved equally successful — if people dancing in the aisles of the Peace Center is a good gauge of success.

Guest conductor William Waldrop took the audience on a tour of big hits from 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.

The Greenville Symphony Orchestra, at 73 years old, is not a stuffy but a spry and nimble septuagenarian. And the orchestra is a vital cultural asset that contributes to making Greenville a world-class community.

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

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