Photo courtesy of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

When I first walked into the Atlanta Symphony Hall, I was surprised at the variety of people bustling back and forth.

From classy ladies wearing evening gowns and men in tuxedos, to fussed-up teenagers that clearly had been planning this night for a long time, the Atlanta Symphony Hall was filled with all types of patrons. It was a diverse mix, which made for an exciting change of pace from the normally more homogenous crowd of orchestra concertgoers.

My date and I were there for the Atlanta Symphony Valentine’s Day program — a program put together and lovingly adorned “From the Heart” by Maestro Michael Krajewski and singer-songwriter Tony DeSare. The holiday made for the perfect musical opportunity.

Tony DeSare, named a “Rising Star” Male Vocalist in the 2009 DownBeat critics’ poll and “one of the most promising young male performers” by The New York Times was no new face at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

“He’s kind of our go-to guy for holidays and special events,” Krajewski explained to the audience. Krajewski was no new face himself.

Having conducted many symphony orchestras around the world, Krajewski is also the first ever to hold the title of Principal Pops Conductor at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Both men had extensive musical backgrounds and impressive experience, but it was clear that the two had a kind of musical chemistry and a friendly respect for each other as they kept the program moving, interspersed with short stories and groan-worthy jokes that only added to the momentum.

The night started off in a more classical sense, with orchestral arrangements of songs like “With a Song in my Heart” and “The Rose,” alternating between high energy, fast-paced crowd pleasers and more slow, romantic ballads.

From the beginning it was obvious that Karjewski had a special place in his heart for this program.

“Today in the crowd we have a very special couple that, for their first date, came to our Valentine’s Program back in 2009,” he started.

“Tonight the couple wanted to recreate that very first date and I’m proud to announce that they are now engaged!” he announced. 

From the soft-spoken older gentleman on my left with a kind look in his eyes, to the young couple on my right, it was clear that everyone was enjoying the night.

It wasn’t until DeSare came out and started playing his very own “New Orleans Tango,” however, meshing together his vocals and piano rendition with orchestral support, that I saw the audience pick up.

The older balding man a few rows in front of me waved his hands through the air and pretended he was conducting, miming playing the piano at the parts where DeSare chimed in to the melody of the orchestra.

The night was meant to be very fun.

From stories that DeSare recalled of meeting Paul McCartney, to husband and wife jokes that the Conductor was making (“…whether you are all here tonight with that special someone or just your husband…”) and especially when DeSare began musically clacking out high-pitched piano notes with his shoe, the crowd became both alive and entranced. The theatrics were a major part of the show.

People were snapping along to the tunes, humming along at DeSare’s prompting and humming even more sensually when DeSare told the crowd that they weren’t “sexy” enough.

With a charmingly cocky demeanor and charismatic smile, DeSare stole the spotlight.

It didn’t matter whether he was explaining the rationale behind some of his songs (“I wrote this song for the sexiest form of dance — other than the ‘Macarena’ of course”) or passionately serenading the crowd with music that he wrote about some of his fondest memories, DeSare was not just a great musician, but a great entertainer as well.

The entire crowd on the upper balcony leaned over to see DeSare strut down the aisle and politely walk past a bemused elderly man to give the man’s wife a rose.

I walked away from the event with a great appreciation both for the professionalism and musicianship of the members of the Atlanta Symphony as well as DeSare.

One of the most striking things to me, however, was that despite there being people from all walks of life at the symphony, everyone was as excited as I was to be there.

Music appreciation, it seemed, was not reserved just for the talented and classically-trained. “I can appreciate it because I’m not [musical myself],” one patron Martin Halicek noted. From the young medical school student on my right that remarked that DeSare was “wicked good at the piano,” to the elderly gentleman on my left that asked if I had enjoyed the show after a standing ovation and encore by DeSare, it was a community of music lovers that had all come together to enjoy a night at Symphony Hall.

I left the show and hopped in the car that I had called moments before. “Man, must have been a good show,” the driver remarked.

“The streets are packed.”

– By Elbert Liang, Contributing Writer