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By STEVEN NALLEY
At first, the Starkville Area Arts Council was considering hosting members of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra in an outdoor venue.
Robin Fant, president of the Starkville Area Arts Council, said he envisioned a concert in a courtyard like the ones at Cadence Bank or the Thad Cochran Research Park. Then he said he found out the AWSOâ€™s schedule called for a noon performance, and he quickly concluded subjecting the performers to sweltering midday Mississippi heat was not an option.
â€śHaving to play in that kind of atmosphere would be tough,â€ť Fant said. â€śWe were trying to come up with an air-conditioned facility with enough space in Starkville that would be conducive to having people come in.â€ť
Air-conditioned relief was only a phone call away.
Starkvilleâ€™s Central Station Grill will host a chamber concert featuring five of AWSOâ€™s members Thursday at 12 p.m.
The concert is free and open to the public. Fant said the Grill always accepts reservations for those who want to guarantee seating for performances ahead of time, but he plans to maximize available space for audiences. Attendees will not have to buy lunch at the Grill to gain entry.
â€śIf you want to come in and (just) get a glass of water, (thatâ€™s fine),â€ť Fant said. â€śWhether it be dance, music or painting, we want to do our part in bringing the arts to Starkville. We are (also) feeding the orchestra ... Weâ€™re fortunate to get the opportunity to hear them.â€ť
Candy Crecink, SAAC spokesperson, said the orchestraâ€™s repertoire includes classical, blues, jazz and contemporary music, providing something for everyone. She said she was grateful to the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau for alerting SAAC to this opportunity, and she is grateful to AWSO for charging nothing to the public or SAAC for the chamber performance.
â€śThese musicians (in) this orchestra are from all over the world,â€ť Crecink said. â€śItâ€™s something phenomenal to bring to Starkville. Thereâ€™s a strong appreciation for music here. Itâ€™s such a positive, wonderful event.â€ť
Based in Mars, Penn., the AWSO was founded in 1957 by Robert Boudreau, who has commissioned more than 400 musical compositions performed during the orchestraâ€™s concert tours. Touring America and the world, the orchestra performs on a 195-foot sailing vessel called the Point Counterpoint II, which opens up to reveal a stage as audiences watch the performance from local shorelines.
This week, the Point Counterpoint II is docked at the Stennis Lock and Dam on the east bank of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, where it will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Jill Borgognoni, one of the eventâ€™s organizers, said this concert is also free and open to the public.
â€śThere will also be two buses that are picking up from the Kmart parking lot on Highway 45 north that will be shuttling back and forth between 5 and 10 p.m.,â€ť Borgognoni said. â€śThere are also fireworks afterward.â€ť
Another of the eventâ€™s organizers, Rufus Ward, said the chamber concert is one of four or five across the region where AWSO will send performers. Not all of them have been finalized yet, he said, but one is slated for Columbusâ€™s Rosenzweig Arts Center, and another is planned for West Pointâ€™s park. Ward said this is not the first time AWSO has visited Columbusâ€™s shores.
â€śThey were in Columbus 11 years ago, and my wife and I attended it,â€ť Ward said. â€śThere were thousands of people. One of the estimates I saw was there were 9,000 or 10,000 people. We were absolutely floored by the performance. Itâ€™s a world-class orchestra.â€ť
Some of the orchestraâ€™s most prestigious performances include playing on the Thames River in London, England for the cityâ€™s 800th anniversary and playing at the centennial anniversary celebration for the Statue of Liberty, Ward said. The AWSO has also contacted all the band directors in Lowndes County and surrounding counties, offering slots for their best students to receive instruction from the orchestraâ€™s members at no charge, he said.
The Point Counterpoint II, Ward said, has also attracted attention from Mississippi State University architecture students and faculty, who are visiting the vessel today.
â€śI had been told by the director a couple of times because the boat is so modern in appearance that at night traveling on the waterway, itâ€™s been mistaken for a UFO,â€ť Ward said. â€śWhen they perform, the side of the ship opens up.â€ť