Soulful Symphony's first Hippodrome season to open with Michael Jackson tribute

The Soulful Symphony, dormant for more than a year, will be back in the spotlight on Saturday.

The orchestra, founded in 2000 by composer, pianist and conductor Darin Atwater and made up predominantly of African American musicians, had an affiliation with the Baltimore Symphony for most of its first decade.


Thanks to the recently launched Hippodrome Arts Fund, Soulful Symphony is now a partner with the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.

"We're ready to launch this thing again," Atwater said. "It's a new chapter, a new home -- but the same soul."

One aspect of that new home is the possibilities it offers to have a more ...

theatrical look for concerts. "I've been working in collaboration with the Hippodrome's technical director to get lighting and backdrops," Atwater said. "It will not be too elaborate, but it will have an immediate effect on our audience."

For its inaugural Hippodrome program, Atwater has chosen excerpts from his genre-bending "Paint Factory," along with tributes to Motown and the late Michael Jackson.

The salute to Jackson includes freshly orchestrated arrangements of "Thriller," "Human Nature" and more. Several of the selections, including "Will You Be There," will feature Soulful's choral component.

"I've been a little hesitant until now to do a Michael Jackson tribute, because I didn't want it to turn into a parody," Atwater said. "But I've got arrangers who understand the look and feel of our group. The charts they've done are stellar."

Greatest hits by several iconic groups from the Motown era will also be performed on the concert.

Although Soulful Symphony has not been active for a while, most of the ensemble's longtime instrumentalists and vocalists were available for the new season, Atwater said.

He has set an ambitious budget of about $800,000 for the Hippodrome lineup, which will include the premiere of his ballet, "Ghetto Safari," which will have what he described as a "very edgy, urban score." The season also offers the first complete performance since 2006 of Atwater's "Evolution of a People." A gospel evening, featuring choirs from around the area, is also on tap.

"We've got some aggressive fundraising to do," Atwater said.