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January 26, 2012

Soulful Symphony's first Hippodrome season to open with Michael Jackson tribute

The Soulful Symphony, dormant for more than a year, will be back in the spotlight on Saturday.

The orchestra, founded in 2000 by composer, pianist and conductor Darin Atwater and made up predominantly of African American musicians, had an affiliation with the Baltimore Symphony for most of its first decade.

Thanks to the recently launched Hippodrome Arts Fund, Soulful Symphony is now a partner with the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.

"We're ready to launch this thing again," Atwater said. "It's a new chapter, a new home -- but the same soul."

One aspect of that new home is the possibilities it offers to have a more ...

theatrical look for concerts. "I've been working in collaboration with the Hippodrome's technical director to get lighting and backdrops," Atwater said. "It will not be too elaborate, but it will have an immediate effect on our audience."

For its inaugural Hippodrome program, Atwater has chosen excerpts from his genre-bending "Paint Factory," along with tributes to Motown and the late Michael Jackson.

The salute to Jackson includes freshly orchestrated arrangements of "Thriller," "Human Nature" and more. Several of the selections, including "Will You Be There," will feature Soulful's choral component.

"I've been a little hesitant until now to do a Michael Jackson tribute, because I didn't want it to turn into a parody," Atwater said. "But I've got arrangers who understand the look and feel of our group. The charts they've done are stellar."

Greatest hits by several iconic groups from the Motown era will also be performed on the concert.

Although Soulful Symphony has not been active for a while, most of the ensemble's longtime instrumentalists and vocalists were available for the new season, Atwater said.

He has set an ambitious budget of about $800,000 for the Hippodrome lineup, which will include the premiere of his ballet, "Ghetto Safari," which will have what he described as a "very edgy, urban score." The season also offers the first complete performance since 2006 of Atwater's "Evolution of a People." A gospel evening, featuring choirs from around the area, is also on tap.

"We've got some aggressive fundraising to do," Atwater said.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Hippodrome

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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