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October 21, 2014

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Bravos and, yes, scalpers greet L.V. Philharmonic at Smith Center debut

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John Katsilometes

Myron Martin at the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s premiere at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 24, 2012.

Everyone wanted a piece of Myron Martin on Saturday night, but pinning him down at the Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall was not easy.

The Smith Center president arrived for the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s first performance at the 2,050-seat performance hall without a ticket. Not that he needed one, of course. Martin resourcefully set up a pair of chairs at the back of the hall -- the Smith Center president can arrange for such informal seating when the event is sold out -- and had planned to watch the groundbreaking performance from that temporary perch.

Forty-five minutes before the show, Martin cut in through the stage door facing the surface parking lot on the east side of the center and wound through the hallways leading to the stage. Occasionally, a Smith Center board member, an L.V. Phil musician or donor and even an usher stopped him. They offered words of congratulations and were excited to see the Phil in the ornate new performance hall. Martin, who often succumbs to the emotion of the moment, could only nod and muster, “Thank you!”

But one message that wound its way to Martin just before the show did prompt genuine astonishment. A parking attendant had relayed a comment he’d overheard out on the Smith Center’s perimeter: “Got any extra tickets?”

Yes, a ticket-dealing entrepreneur, commonly known as a scalper, was doing business at an L.V. Philharmonic show. This has been known to happen at the Joint for Motley Crue, or at MGM Grand Garden Arena for Bon Jovi, but never for a symphony performance in Las Vegas.

“That never happened at Ham Hall,” Martin said, laughing, referring to the UNLV venue that for years served as the L.V. Phil’s primary performance home.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Smith Center

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Canadian Tenors at Smith Center's Reynolds Hall

The Canadian Tenors perform at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Symphony Park in Downtown Las Vegas

Symphony Park -- including the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts -- in downtown Las Vegas on Sunday, March 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Martin wound up finding a pair of seats in a second-level, “dress circle” box, tickets that came open just minutes before the performance. For the L.V. Phil’s premiere at Reynolds Hall, conductor David Itkin opted for Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.” The theme of the piece speaks to rebirth, and it was a befitting message to mark the resurgence of the L.V. Phil and the revitalization of Las Vegas’ cultural identity.

Martin gazed down at the audience seated below on the main floor, the orchestra section. He wore the countenance of a proud father, noting that the venue was inhabited almost entirely by Philharmonic donors -- Las Vegans showing their dedication to the symphony by purchasing season-ticket packages and showing up for performances. The L.V. Phil’s base of season subscribers is about 1,300, and they turned out in force for the symphony’s debut at Reynolds Hall.

The stage was fairly crammed with musicians, more than 80 in all, joined by soprano Marie Plette, mezzo-soprano Eugenie Grunewald, the Las Vegas Master Singers, the UNLV Concert Singers & Chamber Chorale and the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society. In all, about 300 performers took part in the presentation, and the resulting visual and audio effects of the performance were powerful, even hypnotic.

During rehearsals, musicians remarked at how the hall’s superior sound quality made it seem as if they were playing their instruments louder than normal. To the layperson who has attended L.V. Phil shows at Ham Hall, the clarity and robust quality of what was being generated onstage was immediately clear.

Even before the first note was played, the acoustic quality of the hall was evident in the creaking of chairs from musicians steadying to launch into “Resurrection.” The flipping of charts from the stage, the clearing of throats from audience members seated in the nether regions of the balcony, could be heard (I’m waiting for the inevitable moment when someone’s cell phone blares during a show and 2,000 seated guests turn to the precise spot of the offending noise).

Martin frequently leaned forward, gripping the railing in front of him, as if drawn to the stage magnetically. As always, Itkin conducted the orchestra with great animation, navigating the music like a tuxedoed surfer. The symphony members gently swayed while playing their instruments, in unchoreographed symmetry, and the result was a visual ripple effect no LED panel could duplicate. That sort of sensation can only be felt when you are fully immersed in the stage performance, and it’s clear that Martin was engulfed in the music and the moment.

Explaining why he leaned forward at moments during the show, Martin said, “I wanted to experience the sound from different positions,” even if those positions were just 18 inches apart.

As has been noted, and it is important to note, the Smith Center is essentially a landlord for the L.V. Philharmonic, playing the role of business partner more than artistic collaborator. The Phil is paying about $1,600 per show to perform at Reynolds Hall, or the same fee it paid at Ham Hall. Ticket prices have been raised 20 percent as the L.V. Phil bids adieu to Ham Hall, the venue it called home since it was founded by music director Hal Weller (and he was in the audience on Saturday night) in 1998.

Martin considered what the shift in performance venues would mean to the core of the city -- which is fast becoming Symphony Park -- and to UNLV.

“As a city grows, its population demands more from its arts institutions,” he said moments before the program began. “This is the result of the normal evolution of our city.”

By the end of the performance, the audience had risen in a heartfelt standing ovation. Around the hall, there were shouts of “Bravo!” -- and you could hear every one, as clear as a bell.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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