The Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra will journey back in time to the days of Hiawatha with the presentation of "From the New World" on Nov. 18 at the Lucas Theatre.

"Our ninth season's opening night performance was the recipient of rave reviews; some saying that it was the best concert that they have witnessed to date," says Savannah Philharmonic artistic director and conductor Peter Shannon. "I was thrilled to hear the excitement of our supportive audience. My instinctive response was to say, 'Wait for the next one!'"

Read more about the free "Philharmonic in the Streetz" concert set for Nov. 19. 

"From the New World" will feature DvoÅák's "Symphony No. 9," with well-known melodies inspired by Longfellow's "Hiawatha." The Savannah Philharmonic Chorus will join the orchestra in "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast," based on the same source by African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

"I know that the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus is in flying form, thanks to the dedicated work of chorusmaster Monica Dekle," Shannon says. "'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast' is going to be a huge success. If anything is going to top that, then it's going to have to be extraordinary."

Evening of drama

Extraordinary is just what Shannon says the upcoming concert will be.

"I feel confident that the orchestra is going to deliver a 'New World Symphony' that, despite being so well known, will surprise the audience," he says. "Expectations are high when such a well-known symphony is being played. The Philharmonic Orchestra promises an evening of incredible drama."

In addition to Shannon, the orchestra is run by executive director Terri O'Neil. The Philharmonic is in its ninth season, which will continue until the finale on May 5.

Tenor Oliver Mercer will join the chorus for the concert. He first performed with the Philharmonic in 2007 as tenor soloist in Mendelssohn's "Elijah," returning several times for concert and operatic performances.

His other credits include the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, Opera Theater Company Ireland, Charleston Bach Festival, Charleston Symphony, English National Opera and Mid Wales Opera. He has appeared as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Trinity Wall Street and in London at the Barbican and Royal Albert Hall.

A specialist of the Baroque era, Mercer's recent engagements include a national tour of the Monteverdi Vespers, the role of Evangelist in Bach's St. John Passion and performances with the Boston Early Music Festival.

"This will be my sixth time back to Savannah," Mercer says. "I enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with Peter Shannon and am excited to be coming back to Savannah."

Memorable career

Mercer played the trumpet before taking up music.

"I've been singing seriously since my junior year of high school," he says. "All that mattered was that I loved it.

"I played the trumpet from age 11. It became clear that I was getting more scholarship money for singing than I was for the trumpet.

"I ended up switching to singing my junior year of college," he says. "It's been very rewarding. Doing it for a living is different than I imagined, but I've loved it."

During his career, Mercer has had some memorable experiences.

"Some of them have been with Savannah," he says. "In addition to that, I've done the title role of Monteverdi's 'Orfeo.'"

Claudio Montiverdi was a late 16th century composer.

"He was considered the first composer of modern opera that is still performed. I've performed that role over 30 times, and the first time, toured all over Ireland.

"I've done 'St. John Passion' by Bach many times," Mercer says. "I've toured South Korea and Japan. Any time one performs in a major venue for the first time is memorable, and I've played Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center."

'Not least the music'

He's also performed the music of the greatest composers.

"Just the other night, I performed Bach's 'Toccata,'" Mercer says. "It's designed to reflect on our mortality and life. Small things may not be for Carnegie Hall, but they are meaningful.

"With the Savannah Philharmonic, we did 'Cosi fan Tutte,' one of the more difficult ones in the repertoire. That was a lot of fun.

"The 'Elijah' I did 10 years ago when I was just starting my career is especially memorable," Mercer says. "Being in such a wonderful town with such beautiful people was very special."

Mercer wasn't familiar with "From the New World" when Shannon called him.

"I'm excited to perform this because it's a chance to sort of bask in English romanticism. There is some wonderful music composition in England at that time and I sing a lot of it in church.

"It's nice to do something like this outside of that context," he says. "This is something more romantic."

Mercer has dual American and British citizenship.

"I was born in London," he says. "My dad's English, my mom's American. Even though I grew up in Portland, Ore., I always felt drawn to my heritage."

And also drawn to a certain city in the South.

"I've never regretted coming to Savannah," Mercer says. "I love the people, food, architecture, history, everything about it - not least the music."


What: Savannah Philharmonic's "From the New World"

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $15-$80

Info:, 912-232-6002