For the opening concert of its fourth season Aug. 26, the Macon Pops set up shop on the banks of Kneehigh Lake at Middle Georgia State University’s Wellness Center, just in time for the sun to disappear over the hills behind the campus.
The well-lighted stage was a superstructure erected the day before the performance, where Macon Pops co-founders Steve Moretti and Matt Catingub with help from Justin Andrews installed all of the equipment for the 40-piece band on the day of the concert.
The grassy slopes were covered with lawn chairs, blankets, picnics and a few tents long before the strains of James Taylor echoed across the rolling hills surrounding the campus at sundown for the “Songs of Summer.” Guest artist Kevin Spencer, part of the Kristian Bush country-pop band, ignited the audience with his vocals and guitar on “Summer of ’69.” Mercer University senior Abby Henry, who won a lottery for the chance to sing with the Pops last season, returned for this performance to again delight the audience.
The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out,” which inspired a dance by the same name after being part of the sound track for the movie “Dirty Dancing,” was the perfect vehicle for the seismic beat of Moretti’s lightning fast drums, backed by the palpable energy of the band, also prompting some gymnastic acrobatics from the Moretti sons in front of the stage.
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This season features more outdoor concerts for the Pops, so visit maconpops.com for ticket and location information.
Macon symphony toasts 40th year with new music director
From the time the Macon Symphony Orchestra announced the selection of Gerald Steichen as the new musical director, anticipation has reached a fevered pitch for the 40th season, which opened last Saturday night at the Grand Opera House with few seats left for “Russian to the Finnish,” the title of Steichen’s premier event as maestro of the revered MSO.
The concert opened with three Russian folk songs by Mily Balakirev after which, guest pianist Spencer Myer was welcomed to the stage for an orchestral workout of Olympic proportions with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Opus 23. The lyrical composition, inspired by the folk songs of Ukrainian peasants, featured Candace Keach and Kelly Via on flute in the introduction to the second movement and relied on the brass and percussion sections in the final movement’s crescendo, which brought the audience to its feet, demanding an encore.
Myer, commanding the entire keyboard, complied and played an interpretive “Embraceable You,” George and Ira Gershwin’s 1928 jazz song made famous by the queen of scat, Ella Fitzgerald.
The second half of the concert featured Opus 43 from Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, completed in 1902 and influenced by Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The symphony has been an international favorite since its debut performance in Helsinki that same year. Its popularity has endured in Finland because of the bold presence of the woodwind and brass sections.
Considering the near quarter-hour finale, dominated by the trumpets and by the low, mournful resonance of the bass, the orchestra performed the long composition brilliantly under the baton of the new conductor and the audience was generous with its praise. Bravo, MSO, and maestro Steichen for the 40th season!
Seeing changes at the Massee
Since 2013, when Ottawa-based Andrex Holdings Ltd. purchased the Massee Apartments on College Street, Sandy Smallwood, one of the partners, has spent a lot of time in Macon, overseeing repairs to the infrastructure of the 1924, Neel Reid-designed apartment building.
So much of the work is not obvious — plumbing and electrical repairs are in the walls — that it appears progress is moving slowly on the ultimate goal of restoring and renovating all 74 apartments.
For the past six months, a crew has been scraping, sanding and painting doors, cabinets and trim in one apartment on the seventh floor that has a panoramic view of Tatnall Square Park, Mercer’s campus and of the tree-canopied streets of the downtown historic district. This is the first apartment to receive a complete renovation. An open floor plan between the living room and kitchen, granite counter tops, state of the art appliances, and central air conditioning are featured amenities.
On Thursday of last week, Smallwood and James Young, local manager of the Massee, invited tenants, neighbors and friends to an open house at the newly renovated apartment, timed to see a spectacular sunset from the seventh floor balconies.
Smallwood said the most important work remains updating electrical and plumbing sources to the building. However, he was interested in feedback from the guests on restoring the Massee to its original elegance. The apartments, with hardwood floors and solid construction, are reasonably priced for downtown living.