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Maestro, Please

Six guest conductors compete for top honors at CenterStage



How often do you get to see an enormous flying squirrel conduct a symphony orchestra?

Concertgoers had that rare opportunity on Saturday night at CenterStage, when the Richmond Symphony's Celebrity Maestro concert saw six distinguished Richmonders -- or five distinguished Richmonders and one celebrity minor league baseball mascot — pitted against each other in a mock contest to determine which could be crowned Best Guest Conductor.

And the evening's colorful wild card, Nutzy, the Flying Squirrels' mascot, was anything but a bushy-tailed sight gag as he took control of the baton and led the symphony through (what else?) "Trepak" from "The Nutcracker." In a word: This squirrel got game. A half-filled Carpenter Theatre audience was informed by associate conductor Erin Freeman (who coached the celebrity participants) and host Ryan Nobles of WRLH FOX "News at 10" that the black and red team icon once played trumpet in his high school band.

Elsewhere, Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010, was stately and precious as she waved her way through "American The Beautiful" -- impressively, she wore her crown the entire time -- while WCVE DJ Bobbie Barajas and St. Paul's Baptist Church pastor Dr. Lance Watson gamely gestured through the finale of Rossini's William Tell overture and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," respectively.

Last up was Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who rather pointedly toweled off his bald spot before leading the musicians into the "Les Toreadors" section of Bizet's "Carmen." In a Fox-TV produced film clip that was screened before he took his spot on the podium, Jones informed the crowd that "A city without art is like a person without blood." Hizzoner then proceeded to bloodlessly saw his way through the stiffest conducting job of the evening, leading many in the crowd to wonder: "How would Doug Wilder have handled those woodwinds?"

Jones' uninspired turn stood in sharp contrast to Susan Greenbaum's eye-opening performance; the petite singer/songwriter donned a bandana and cowboy boots before copping the top prize from judges and audience members for her exuberant (and convincing) take on Aaron Copland's "Hoe Down," aka "The beef is what's for dinner" song. When asked about this theatrical wardrobe change by host Nobles, Greenbaum was blunt: "I'm going up against a flying squirrel."

The Celebrity Maestro event was a benefit for the symphony's educational programs. 


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