Dr. Selmer Spitzer acknowledges audience applause for Southern
Nevada Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Linda Faas

“Wow!” was the widespread comment heard from overwhelmed concert-goers at the conclusion of the Southern Nevada Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Feb. 23.

SNSO, now in its fifth season, continues to elevate its musicality and audience appeal with every concert. The musicians brought stirring drama and vitality to Saturday’s performance.

Under the direction of Selmer Spitzer, SNSO boasts a membership of 70, quite an astounding accomplishment in a town the size of Mesquite. Spitzer has delivered on his promise to bring high quality orchestral performance and artistic excellence to the city.  He draws musicians of all ages from among the Mesquite population, as well as attracting others from southern Nevada and Utah.

Starting the program with a classic Russian composition, The Great Gate of Kiev, by Mussorgsky, the orchestra transitioned to Star Wars:  Episode II by John Williams. This piece opens with the familiar Star Wars anthem, then moves into a haunting love song that was used throughout the sequel movie.  Spitzer then returned to a classical Bach favorite, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, made familiar to modern audiences through movies and TV.

Guest conductor Bob Long, center, with cellist Lila Williams, left,
and Curtis and Karen Dassonville, right photo by Linda Faas

Spitzer then introduced guest conductor Bill Long who was invited to direct SNSO in a rousing march, In Storm and Sunshine, by Heed.  Long, a specialist in brass music education, is a retired music professor and musician.  As the lanky conductor took the podium, he suddenly stopped and turned to the audience to tell the story of how he met Spitzer.

In his delightful, comedic manner, Long related how he graduated from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, in 1965, “knowing NOTHING!”

He was grateful to be hired by Spitzer as instructor for the local junior high band, and credits Spitzer with teaching him a powerful life lesson when Long opened his first student concert with a seriously grim expression on his face.

Spitzer motioned him to the side of the stage after two songs and whispered, “This is supposed to be fun! Smile!”

That advice opened up a new world for Long, and he and Spitzer have been lifelong friends and musical associates.  It is obvious from the orchestra’s superb execution of Heed’s march that Long has learned much in his 47 year as a music educator, but Long credits Spitzer with being a music visionary who brings impossible

dreams to life.

Spitzer returned to the podium after intermission to direct Klaus Badelt’s theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  Again, this movie favorite was performed to perfection.  Drama, emotion, and visions of Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow were palpable.

The audience was then treated to a pair of piano solos by guest artist, Dr. Christian Bohnenstengel, current director of keyboard studies at Southern Utah University in Cedar City.

His first selection was Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, written as a movie score for a story of a WWII Polish pilot.   Bohnenstengel performed his solos on a Steinway grand piano  originally owned by Summa Corporation and used onstage at the Desert Inn Hotel to  accompany the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.  The Steinway was eventually purchased by the Spitzers in 2009.

Bohnenstengel is not only a classical pianist;  he also excels in jazz.  The final number on the program was Ode to Joy, by Ludwig Van Beethoven, but the performer had his own ideas about its presentation.  He surprised the crowd with his jazzed version of that final movement from the Ninth Symphony.   Quickly, much of the audience was tapping time and suppressing the urge to dance in the aisle.  Bohnenstengel and SNSO more than earned the standing ovation and call for encore that he drew.

This outstanding concert was presented in memoriam of violinist Jean Hardman, who passed away in December.  She was a highly respected musician who shared her musical talent not only with the symphony, but as a fiddler for many cowboy poetry productions in town.  Her talent and grace earned her the title of 2016 Ms. Senior Mesquite.

SNSO will perform its final concert of the season April 6 at the CasaBlanca Showroom. Tickets start at $15, and are available through startickets.com or call 800-585-3737, and at the CasaBlanca front desk.