From Broadway to Brookhaven: Pianist comes to city for concertPublished 12:00pm Friday, November 8, 2013
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Social connections are as Southern as sweet tea and sweltering summers.
No Southerner encounters a stranger because there’s bound to be a cousin or a friend in common, no matter how geographically or relationally distant.
Southern connections like these are what brought virtuoso pianist Philip Fortenberry from Las Vegas to Brookhaven Thursday night for a well-attended concert with Matinee Musicale members and guests.
“Vicki Carter played as our guest at our April program, and she said, ‘Ellen, you should call Philip Fortenberry,’” said Ellen Williamson, first vice president and program chair of Matinee Musicale. “I wrote him, and he has been nothing but gracious and interested in coming back to his beloved Mississippi,” Williamson said Thursday night.
Carter, a Broadway musician and conductor and one of the co-founders of the Mississippi Picnic in New York, is a longtime friend of Williamson’s and also Fortenberry’s. Long before New York, Carter started her career at a Southern Baptist church in Tupelo.
“Vicki went to school at USM with a lot of people I knew, and I saw her at the picnic in New York,” Fortenberry said. “My family still lives in Columbia,” he said, so when he received Williamson’s letter, he welcomed the chance to come home, see his family, go to “my cabin in the woods on the river” and visit nearby Brookhaven.
“I seem to remember coming to a church here and hearing an organ as a child,” said Fortenberry as he waited to begin his concert at the South Jackson Street home of John and Helen Lynch Thursday night.
The pianist also recalled coming to see Columbia Academy play Brookhaven Academy in high school as a teenager. “The academy is way out there somewhere,” he said, waving his arm toward the southwest,” as he stood by the baby grand piano in the Lynchs’ front sitting room while local residents began taking their seats in the folding chairs lined up in the sitting room, the entry hall and adjoining rooms.
But Thursday night was his first visit to downtown Brookhaven. “I don’t recall coming down here before,” he said, motioning toward the city’s center.
For his local debut, Fortenberry chose a wide-ranging program spiced with selections from Rachmaninoff, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber, among others.
The Brookhaven audience was treated to a performance by an artist who has played for nine Broadway productions and eight national tours, including such shows as Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Saturday Night Fever, Ragtime, Seussical– The Musical, Sideshow and The Lion King.
Fortenberry’s career began early. The Columbia native began playing the piano at age 4 and was the accompanist for his church by age 7, with a solo concert at age 12.
He studied piano with Myoko Lotto at The Juilliard School and holds a Master of Music degree in classical piano performance from New Jersey City University and was an adjunct faculty member in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. He was a 2004 recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from William Carey University in Hattiesburg.
He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
For two years, as the featured artist-in residence at the Liberace Museum, he performed his one-man show, Liberace and Me. He most recently was the piano double for Michael Douglas in the acclaimed HBO film “Behind the Candelabra.”