Opus One passes test of classical music set free

Orchestra rallies, Marshall rouses

Oboist Joey Salvalaggio is one of the organizers of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Opus One series.

Oboist Joey Salvalaggio is one of the organizers of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Opus One series.

Oboist Joey Salvalaggio is one of the organizers of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Opus One series.

Oboist Joey Salvalaggio is one of the organizers of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Opus One series.

Concert review

Thursday night's Opus One performance marked the first big creative test of the emerging concert series.

Its debut concert in March was a safe and successful start with Bach and Beethoven, leavened with some big band music.

This time was a lot less cautious: The featured guest performer was the milky smooth and ferociously hot singer Susan Marshall, blending beautifully with the instrumentation.

And before Marshall tore up the place, the classical combo String Theory put deliciously textured spins on tunes by Radiohead, Postal Service and an original work by Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist Jonathan Kirkscey.

Even the straight-up classical works were mainly refreshing and vivid, firmly establishing that there would be little tolerance for wheezy selections.

The germ of the idea began about a year ago. Memphis Symphony musicians would perform without a conductor in nontraditional locations around town. Expenses would be minimized by musicians handling arrangements, moving equipment, doing the marketing.

The goal was to reach more listeners and let the players do what they love -- play.

Thursday night's payoff was terrific.

The concert was at the Warehouse in Downtown, a funky 10,000-square-foot space that draws an eclectic range of events. It was packed with people who were standing and sitting, and that included the musicians who started out featuring the strings with a crisp and buzz-worthy rendition of Grieg's "Holberg Suite."

Principal trumpeter Scott Moore told the crowd that he was going to talk about the ground rules and then announced there weren't any. Applause between movements was OK. Cheering and whistling encouraged. Mingling with musicians between sets was fine.

The second selection was Richard Strauss' Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, mercifully short and sonically uneven for the usually strong wind section.

Third up was excerpts from Henri Tomasi's "Fanfares Liturgique," a robust show-off piece for brass and percussion that got the Warehouse pumping with energy and precision.

Susan Marshall was just about a perfect choice with her rowdy/gorgeous voice (the lusty "Little Red" being almost illegal) finding a sweet spot with arrangements by Sam Shoup and Kirkscey.

The upshot is that Opus One has established itself as a fresh creative powerhouse in town. As violinist Susanna Perry Gilmore said, you don't have to sacrifice content to take classical to a different level.

And Thursday night, it was clear that no sacrifices were made in the creation of this new musical experience.

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