The Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus is a beast with two brains. On the artistic side, there’s Peter Shannon, who programs the season and conducts the band and the vocalists. The business brain belongs to executive director David Pratt.
For the third year in a row, the orchestra’s season–opening concert, The American Spirit, has been scheduled for Sept. 11. This year, of course, it happens to be the 10th anniversary of that dire day in American history, and Shannon has designed a program of stirring music by American composers in commemoration of what is know officially Patriot Day.
Ironically, neither is an American citizen; they’re both living and working here on permanent resident status. Pratt is a citizen of Australia, while Shannon’s Green Card is from Ireland.
One has to live in the United States for a specified amount of years before applying for citizenship; they’re both well on their way, and working for it.
“I’ve chosen this to be my home, and it’s important that I get that citizenship,” says Pratt, whose homeland allows him to hold full citizenship in both countries.
He joined the Philharmonic a year ago as the organization’s first executive director (the well–traveled Shannon was their initial hire, in 2008).
Pratt had worked both Down Under and in Los Angeles in the movie business, and with major international music festivals, before settling in Savannah during the fall of 2010.
Pratt says he quickly fell under the city’s spell. “Apart from the obvious things, the physical aspects of the city, the beauty, it really is a ‘big small city,’ as people call it here,” he explains. “I didn’t know what that really meant.
“But now, being here for a year, I see that. Because so much goes on in this small town, which is incredible. As far as other cultural and entertainment options, the range of non–profits and other organizations in the community.
“I’ve lived in other small cities as well; there’s such a range of eclectic people here, from all over the United States and different aspects of the world. And a lot of small cities don’t have that kind of diversity.”
Since its incorporation in 2008, Pratt says, the Savannah Philharmonic has ended each financial year with a “surplus” – he can’t really call it “profit” – which means that Shannon, the musicians, the Board of Directors and now Pratt himself are doing something right.
Attendance has improved at each subsequent concert. Donations are up.
“This tells me that the community here is definitely interested in seeing and hearing, and engaging in, orchestral concerts and orchestral choral concerts. The key, of course, is sustaining that in the long term. And that’s going to be very important in terms of how we move forward.”
With a relatively new organization, “in a very uncertain economy, we have to very careful about how we spend our money and how we move forward. And that it’s very strategic. And that we are doing the right thing by those that support us.”
Pratt says the shining light in all of this is Shannon, in whose musical taste, and talent, the entire brain trust has absolute faith.
One element of Shannon’s expertise is his thoughtfulness in setting programs for Savannahians (what Pratt calls his artistic director’s “innate ability to understand what will work and what won’t, and how far he can challenge his audiences”).
Choosing tunes for the Sept. 11 American Spirit concert, Pratt explains, may seem like a slam–dunk. But Shannon thought long and hard about it.
“When we have a program like this, with different pieces of music, it often can be more difficult to program,” Pratt says.
“He’s deliberately chosen music by wonderful American composers like Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin, and then finishes up with something that’s really kind of loud and celebratory, and also fits into that theme.”
That would be Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which isn’t American, of course, but remains one of the most stirring pieces of music ever written (it commemorates the Russian defense of Moscow by the armies of Napoleon).
Typically, performances of the 1812 climax with an ear–splitting volley of real cannon fire, driving home its theme of indomitable, patriotic spirit in the face of adversity.
“I guess we could fire cannons inside the Lucas, or outside, but I don’t think that’s going to work!” Pratt laughs. “We’re looking at some other options that will still be very loud, though.”
Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
The American Spirit
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11
Limited seating $100 (half of the proceeds from these tickets will be divided equally between the First Ranger Battalion Sua Sponte Foundation and the Military Family Relief Fund)
Phone: (912) 525–5050