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Released March 14, 2003


HATTIESBURG - Renowned local pianist Brian Blair will take center stage at the Saenger Theatre March 21 in a concert that will celebrate two of Hattiesburg's unique treasures – The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Hattiesburg Historic Downtown District.

Blair will perform an array of songs from Academy Award-winning films such as "Gone with the Wind" to present day films in a program fittingly titled "Hooray for Hollywood." The concert, presented as part of the Downtown with the Arts series, also serves as a fund-raising event that is right up Blair's alley.

"The symphony is an inspiration to me in what I do for a living and motivates me to be a better musician," Blair said. "I believe in supporting the arts and believe the community needs a strong orchestra – but a strong orchestra takes money."

The university's symphony, founded in 1920, is a leader in university symphonies nationwide and often has been favorably compared to some of the best regional orchestras. Comprised solely of student musicians, the Southern Miss Symphony has played host to internationally renowned and highly sought-after soloists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Denyce Graves, Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, Edgar Meyer and Itzhak Perlman.

Case in point, Perlman, who rarely plays with student ensembles, agreed to a return engagement after his first appearance on the symphony season in 1996 and performed again with the orchestra in the 2001-02 season.

Blair himself has garnered acclaim throughout the region for his command of the popular song repertoire, with a catalogue of more than 1,300 memorized selections ranging from the late 1800s to the present.

"Brian is such a well-known performer in our area and a generous philanthropist," said Jay Dean, musical director of the symphony at Southern Miss. "This concert will be a positive outreach on our behalf, and we are extremely grateful for his support of our endeavors."

"Hooray for Hollywood" is a tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Academy Awards and the100th anniversary of the first full-length motion picture, "The Great Train Robbery." Blair, whose great aunt was a silent film pianist, will accompany a short segment of the film in the style of that period.

Also featured on the program will be songs from "The Wizard of Oz," "Casablanca," "Gigi," "Dr. Zhivago" and many others. A trio of singers – Maryann Kyle, Heather Clancy Allen and Dean Bellais – will join Blair on the program. The vocalists have all performed with the Southern Miss Symphony on numerous occasions.

The Downtown with the Arts series is a partnership that includes the Southern Miss Symphony Orchestra, Trustmark Bank, Partners for the Arts, William Carey College, the Hattiesburg American, the city of Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Historic Downtown Association, Hawthorn Suites, and 206 Front Street. This coalition formed to create arts events in the downtown area to stimulate interest in the further development of that locale.

"The University of Southern Mississippi greatly benefits from this community and presenting events in our downtown area is one of the ways we can give back to those who support us in such a meaningful way," Dean said. "We all should be aware of what a positive thing it is for any community to have a vibrant downtown. We feel it is important to present events not only on campus but in the center of our historic community as well."

Blair, a Hattiesburg native, agrees. His father, noted architect Steven Blair Jr., passed along an appreciation for the preservation of historic buildings to his son early in his youth.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are $10 for general admission and may be purchased by calling (601) 266-5418 or 800-844-8425. Order online at www.tickets.usm.edu. For more information, call the Symphony office at (601) 266-4001.



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July 16, 2003 9:17 AM