Rain fell on Poplarville, Mississippi on Tuesday evening, September 24, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those attending the multi-faceted celebration taking place at Pearl River Community College. The evening marked the grand opening of the Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Arts and the first performance of the inaugural season there. The crowd gathered in the Smith Auditorium, honoring Martin Travis and Dolores Thomas Smith who are Patron Sponsors of the Arts at the college.
Conductor Crafton Beck led the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the audience in “The Star Spangled Banner” to begin the evening. Once the introductions of members of the Holden and Smith families ended, various civic leaders involved in the project were identified. The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured members of the Holden family. They stood along the front of the stage as officials stretched the ribbon and then used oversized shears to snip it, declaring the facility officially opened.
Beck conducted a program which he described as a look at the music that makes up “modern American music culture.” With music from historic and popular settings, along with Broadway and film settings, the selections had toes tapping and heads nodding in time throughout the auditorium.
The elegant simplicity of the hall provided lush backdrop for the music of the orchestra. The stage, finished in polished wood, reflected the movements of the orchestra members in a kaleidoscopic effect. With its outstanding acoustics, the auditorium became the star of the show. Even Beck commented on the quality of the venue.
“This room is as fine a room as any we’ve played in,” he noted after listing some of the stellar venues where the orchestra has performed. He added that the various members of the orchestra were smiling throughout the evening, as the quality of the room allowed them to hear nuances of their performances that they don’t often get to hear.
Beck opined that the hall will have a profound effect on the community, as the presentations it can host will influence generations to come.
The symphony program included “Lord of the Dance” by Ronan Hardiman; “Nil ‘Na La/Toss the Feathers,” a traditional Irish reel; a tribute to Irving Berlin, arranged by Bruce Healey; “1941 March” by John Williams; highlights from Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score of “Les Miserables,” arranged by Warren Barker and John Williams’ main theme from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Following the intermission, the orchestra presented an arrangement by conductor Beck of selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” A piano solo highlighted themes from “Exodus” by Ernest Gold. A Calvin Custer arrangement of several love themes from James Bond movies included “For Your Eyes Only,” “Live & Let Die” and “Goldfinger.” For the finale, the orchestra delivered a rousing version of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The upcoming season for the center includes a physics lecture by Dr. Michio Kaku, “The Spirit of Harriet Tubman,” the Count Basie Orchestra, “Guys and Dolls” and a number of concert programs by the PRCC Fine Arts and Communication Department.