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Art Beat: Pianist Mac Frampton to play with Gwinnett Philharmonic

It would be foolish indeed not to attend the Gwinnett Philharmonic concert on Tuesday, when famed pianist Mac Frampton guest stars with the orchestra for "The Philharmonic Plays Pops."

In fact, the trick might be how to get a ticket to see this marvelous performer live.

Music Director Monte Nichols conducts the professional musicians of the Gwinnett Philharmonic as they support Frampton, a sort of "classical backup band," so to speak. The evening gets under way with the orchestra alone offering a selection of favorites from "West Side Story."

Frampton will then take the stage to perform with the orchestra for the well-loved "Rhapsody in Blue" by Gershwin. This will be followed by a medley of classic television musical hits and moments from Broadway, including selections from "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera." The evening will end with a suite of John Williams' heroic and inspiring movie themes.

Frampton himself is a fascinating individual and artist. He was born in South Carolina to a father who was a minister and a mother who sang her way through college during the Depression. He started playing the piano at age 3, and then began formal music lessons at 5. He made his professional debut at age 8.

After his musical studies at Erskine College, he completed graduate work at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where he received a doctorate in musical arts. While a student, Frampton gained national prominence as a medal-winning semifinalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

It was at the competition that Frampton began to seriously consider an alternative to a classical career.

"I was at a farewell reception, and some of the contestants who knew I improvised pop and jazz asked me to play a few tunes. I had just started when Van Cliburn himself walked in. He told me he was impressed with my arrangements and that I should consider doing them professionally," he said. "With that kind of endorsement, I had to think seriously about going into the pop arena. I went home and started booking myself with a backup group and found I really loved it."

Based on classical technique, drawing liberally from jazz and rock idioms, Frampton's rock-alternative sound continues to build a wider audience with every concert. He has 22 albums and 10 original revues to his credit, plus a motion picture soundtrack.

Tickets for the concert are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors and $12 for students. Tickets can be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at 404-249-6400, visiting any Ticketmaster location or going by the Gwinnett Center Box Office at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.

For more information about the Gwinnett Philharmonic, visit www.gwinnettphilharmonic.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail hcalmes@mindspring.com.