From the Park to the Nightclub 

Sarah Hatsuko Hicks is taking the Richmond Symphony out of its Element.

On Friday, June 2, the Richmond Symphony will perform a free concert at Pocahontas State Park featuring all-American music such as John Williams' "Summon the Heroes," which people will remember as the theme music from the recent Olympics. Other highlights include a piece by Ferde Grofe to honor New Orleans as well as some swing and big band music.

This concert wraps up Hicks' first complete season with the Richmond Symphony. The whole year's been a highlight, she says. But it was not without its challenges, which included performing at 43 different venues. "It was hard from an operational standpoint," she says, "not to mention an emotional one. We never knew what to expect at these different venues."

Unfortunately, the orchestra will have to continue its caravan-like ways until 2009, when the Carpenter Center is supposed to be completed. "We feel a little like nomads," Hicks says.

But the challenges haven't hurt the music. Hicks' main series, the Kicked Back Classics, grew from a crowd of about 200 at the beginning of the season to a crowd of more than 400 at the end. "We filled the rotunda at the Science Museum," Hicks says. "It was standing room only!"

The success can probably be attributed to Hicks' talent for making music accessible to all. In her programs, she talks about the music with the audience in order to humanize the composers and bring a connection to them. "Composers were people like us," Hicks says. And to emphasize that, she has the symphony perform in blue jeans.

The success of her series is also the result of hard work. "I'm taking my first vacation in five years this summer," Hicks says. But don't be deceived — it's only for a week. The rest of the summer is filled with trips to New York for two different festivals and planning for next season.

One of her goals is to prove "the Richmond Symphony is more flexible than people think." So as part of her Kicked Back Classics series, the orchestra will be performing four concerts at the soon-to-be-opened nightclub Toad's Place on Thursday nights. "Classical music can be cool," she says. "You can come and have a drink after work and hang out with friends."

But Hicks will also show her serious side next season by conducting a masterworks concert in October entitled "Portraits of Home." The concert will feature Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances."

But Hicks' main goal for next year can probably be best summed up this way: "We should do the unexpected. I want to push the expectations of what a symphony is." And because Hicks' passion for classical music is right up there with motorcycle riding and punk bands, it seems that if anyone's going to push the envelope, it's Hicks. S

The Richmond Symphony performs a free concert at Pocahontas State Park Friday, June 2, at 7 p.m. 788-1212.

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