By Dottie Ashley

Upon hearing that the world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma will open the extensively renovated Charleston Gaillard Center with a performance in the center’s Martha and John Rivers Performance Hall, I immediately thought of a phone conversation I had with the musician around 2005. Although he once performed years prior for Spoleto Festival USA, Ma was extremely happy to return to Charleston as it conjured memories of his first visit. “At that time, I was really very young and not very well known and I was absolutely ecstatic over being invited to perform,” recalled the cellist. “Also, since I had recently married, we considered the Charleston trip to be a kind of second honeymoon and we had a wonderful time.”

Therefore, it appears an amazing coincidence that Ma’s performance will inaugurate the Gaillard’s 1,800-seat auditorium, which is named in honor of Martha and John M. Rivers, the parents of Martha Rivers Ingram, a Charleston native who lives in Nashville, Tennessee; Elizabeth Rivers Lewine of Charleston; and local businessman John M. Rivers, Jr.

The performance hall occupies one section of the recently completed $142 million Gaillard Center, which also houses a multi-use exhibition hall and offices for city employees.

Therefore, it is fitting that on October 18, in celebration of the Gaillard’s completion, that an invitation-only concert starring Ma, to be accompanied by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, will serve as a gala fundraiser as part of the Gaillard’s capital campaign designed to pay off the center’s still-looming construction bills.

In a conversation from Nashville, Ms. Ingram said, “We three siblings decided to name the performance hall for our parents because of our family’s ‘lead gift’ that actually initiated this project.” Ingram added, “To further signify that the hall is named for our parents, a double-portrait of them, painted by Nashville artist Michael Shane Neal, will be placed at the entrance of the hall,” Ingram explained. “Also, below the painting will be a plaque saying that Martha and John M. Rivers were ‘Broadcasting Pioneers, Community Leaders and Arts Patrons.’”

Among the pieces to be performed at the concert will be Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” a colorful composition selected to demonstrate the superb acoustics of the new hall, one of the new building’s most significant points of pride.

The official public dedication of the Charleston Gaillard Center will be held from 5-8 p.m. on Oct. 9.

Three diverse series

Tom Tomlinson, executive director of the Charleston Gaillard Center, has announced that three self-encompassing series will comprise the center’s debut season — A Masterpiece Series, a Broadway Series and a Dance Series.

Tomlinson noted that tickets either may be purchased separately to any of the events in a certain series, or to all events in the three series by purchasing a Charleston Gaillard Center Membership, which includes significant discounts, multiple payment options, invitations to gala events and other perks.

The season-opener will be on Oct. 22 with the start of the Masterpiece Series, six diverse programs sponsored by the Charleston Concert Association and directed by Jason Nichols, who is also Director of Programming for the Charleston Gaillard Center.

The Masterpiece Series

Oct. 22: “Chanticleer,” known internationally as “an orchestra for voices,” with 12 male singers performing selections from Renaissance to jazz.

Nov. 2: “The National Circus and Acrobats” from the People’s Republic of China.

Nov. 9: “Compania Flamenca” featuring internationally known flamenco dancers, with live music.

Nov. 14: The Munich Symphony Orchestra starring renowned guitarist Pepe Romero.

Dec. 8: The Vienna Boys Choir

Mar. 4: Disney’s “Fantasia,” performed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

The Broadway Series

Sponsored by Jill and John Chalsty, the Center’s Broadway Series will present:

Nov. 17, 18: The fantastically witty Woody Allen musical, “Bullets Over Broadway,” which, I, personally, long to see every week of my life — but unfortunately was only able to view once on Broadway.

Jan. 12: “The Broadway Tenors.”

Mar. 2: “RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles.”

Mar. 14: “Saturday Night Fever.”

The Dance Series

Sponsored by Charles and Celeste Patrick, The Dance Series will present:

Dec. 5, 6: “The Nutcracker,” by the Charlotte Ballet

Mar. 8, 9: The New York City Ballet’s “Moves.”

Apr. 9, 10: “The Little Mermaid” by the Charlotte Ballet.

To purchase tickets, call (843) 242-3099, go online at www.gaillardcenter.com or visit the box office at 95 Calhoun St.

Dottie Ashley, arts columnist for the Charleston Mercury, served for many years as arts writer and critic for the state’s two largest newspapers. She was winner of the 2003 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award and twice a recipient of a Dance Critics Fellowship to the American Dance Festival.

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