By Linda Sickler / Savannah Morning News; Featured in “Latest News”

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An evening of pure drama is promised music lovers when the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra opens its 2012-13 season Sept. 8 with music by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

“It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic powerhouse concert than the upcoming opening night,” says conductor and artistic director Peter Shannon.

The new season follows an exceptionally successful 2011-2012 season. The Savannah Friends of Music will present an educational pre-concert talk for ticketholders at 6:30 p.m.

Korean pianist Yejin Noh will join the orchestra as a soloist on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. “She is an incredibly gifted musician whom I singled out when I judged an international piano competition recently,” Shannon says.

“As one of my colleagues on the jury put it after she played, ‘You can play it differently, but not better,’ which is high praise indeed from a man who has been a prominent professor of piano here in the States.”

Noh earned a Bachelor of Music from Seoul National University and a master’s from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. She currently is studying with Menahem Pressler while pursuing an Artist’s Diploma and has won numerous prizes in the United States and Korea.

“She’s only 25,” Shannon says. “There were so many people who were so good at that competition, but she had something extra the others didn’t have.

“She got into the finals, but didn’t place, but it didn’t matter,” he says. “I thought she was really incredible and asked her to perform with us this season.”

The piano concerto will be followed by Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. “The motivation is to begin the season with very, very strong concert pieces,” Shannon says.

“The Shostakovich is an incredible piece of music. I know that Savannah audiences will be absolutely knocked out by it because of the high drama of the piece.”

Written during Stalin’s reign in the former Soviet Union, Shostakovich’s compositions were outwardly patriotic to obscure his difficult relationship with Stalin’s regime. “This was a time when people who disagreed with Stalin disappeared in the night,” Shannon says.

“The real message in his marches is that they tend to be a celebration of all things Russian. He found a way to write that was sarcastic and was a little too brilliant for his own good.

“He became suspect, a little too patriotic,” Shannon says. “He found a way to write his music that was incredibly dangerous for him personally.

“He was still able to bow to the Soviet regime he lived under and at the same time find his own niche. He was a very clever man altogether.”

Over his five years in Savannah, Shannon has successfully found pieces that might not be familiar, but he’s enticed audiences to give them a try. “If we do only pieces people love and want to hear, we’ll run out,” he says.

“I’m trying to find ways to educate the community and to open their horizons to pieces they don’t know,” Shannon says. “It’s working. There is method to my madness.”

Tickets are going fast for the season opener. “You need to act really quickly if you want to hear this one,” Shannon says.

Credit is due to the Philharmonic board and executive director David Pratt, Shannon says.

“People are starting to see the organization for what it is, an incredible success story on a shoestring budget,” he says.

“We now have an orchestra that is able to do all the repertoire the bigger orchestras are doing and pack the concert halls. We’re really breaking the mold.”

It’s impossible to deny the success the orchestra has had, Shannon says. Ticket sales are up — and so are donations.

“We now have two years in a row in the black,” Shannon says. “People want to be a part of the success story.

“Our outreach programs in hospitals and schools are starting to have an effect, too,” he says. “People who are investing in the Savannah Philharmonic are investing in our success.”