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Music at the Mansion: Symphony performance christens Allandale Amphitheater

Leigh Ann Laube • Jul 21, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Symphony of the Mountains will christen the Allandale Amphitheater next weekend with “Music at the Mansion,” and organizers are sure the founding benefactor of the amphitheater, the late Harry Wesley Coover Jr., would be proud.

“He was very involved with the arts community. He was tickled to death that we were doing this. I know he would be thrilled to have the symphony as the opening performance,” said Rod Gemayel, Allandale’s curator.

The amphitheater is a project that has been years in the making. Coover, a Cornell University-educated chemist and retired Eastman Chemical Co. executive vice president, and his wife Muriel had an appreciation for the finer things in life. They had a special place in their hearts for Allandale Mansion.

Coover, who died in March 2011 at age 94, served on the Friends of Allandale (FOA) board of directors from 1990 to 1994. After Muriel died, Coover wanted to do something in her memory, and he chose Allandale as the place to erect a memorial — the Heron Dome, which features a bronze heron sculpture in a shallow pool. At the dedication of the Heron Dome, Coover announced that he would contribute more money to FOA for the establishment of an amphitheater.

“He provided the seed money for that to inspire us to press on. It was a big project. It was an expensive project,” Gemayel said.

Allen Dryden Jr., son of Allandale’s original architect, drew up plans that followed the natural topography of the land. With Coover’s $150,000 donation and other financial commitments, Friends of Allandale broke ground in May 2011, an event that was held in conjunction with a memorial service for Coover.

The Amphitheater at Allandale sits behind the mansion and features a 2,300-square-foot stage with dressing rooms and festival-style seating. It’s a contemporary design, which contrasts to the Georgian architecture of the historic home, built just after World War II as the private residence of Harvey and Ruth Brooks.

The construction did not require the removal of any trees on the property. Before his death, Coover had funded the planting of a row of Leyland cypress trees on the property.

“We did not take down any trees. When people think of Allandale, they think of white and green,” Gemayel said.

“It’s a natural setting. Allen [Dryden] came up with the design, the location, the size of it,” said Hoyt Denton, a former FOA board member.

The Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Kingsport and FOA will hold a ribbon cutting at 5 p.m., July 28, to officially open the Allandale Amphitheater. The facility may be booked by professional musical groups, or rented by the public for weddings, family celebrations, school performances, graduations and church events.

“It truly is a multi-purpose area,” Gemayel said.

“And it’s starting to generate a lot of momentum,” said current FOA President Lorrie Cooper.

Immediately following the ribbon cutting, the FOA, a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to support the Allandale Mansion, will play host to the Symphony of the Mountains in a full-length, pops/light classical concert.

Led by conductor Cornelia Laemmli Orth, the amphitheater’s opening concert is one stop on the symphony’s summer schedule. “Music at the Mansion” is one of three performances in a touring symphony series beginning at Chetola in Blowing Rock, N.C., traveling to Wise, Va., for a performance at University of Virginia’s College at Wise and ending with the finale in Kingsport.

“The stage is going to be great. That stage is beautiful. Great acoustics. Beautiful to look at. It’s like a picture-book scenario,” said Laemmli Orth.

The symphony’s approximately 60 musicians will perform a number of patriotic songs, including “The National Anthem,” “The Armed Forces Salute,” “The Patriot” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The repertoire will also include “In These Mountains,” “Pops Hoe-Down” and “Amazing Grace.”

Tenor Randy Outland will be a guest soloist, along with Gordon Warburton on bagpipes. Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips will also appear as a soloist.

“Bring your picnic. Bring your blanket, your chairs. It’s a family-oriented, fun concert,” she said.

Orth hopes this will be the first of many summer concerts at Allandale.

“This is a place that I’ve been dreaming about for so long, and I think this could be a real big thing in our community. It’s a great location, and we’re very fortunate now to have an outdoor space. There’s nothing like that in our region. It’s just a nice atmosphere when you look out and people have their picnics and their kids. It’s a nice, nice thing.”

Patrons are invited to bring folding chairs or blankets to sit on, as well as a picnic dinner. It’s expected that the venue can accommodate an audience of at least 2,000.

The ribbing cutting will be held rain or shine. In the event of rain, the concert will be moved to Robinson Middle School.

Eventually, the site will feature a permanent recognition for Coover, the founding benefactor.

“It’s a celebration and an unveiling to the city, a gift to the city and to the public. If we make money, that’s great, but the goal is to introduce it to the city,” Cooper said.

The FOA is accepting donations for Phase II of the project: the addition of a tension fabric roof to protect the stage and performers, and an upgraded sound and lighting system.

“We have had significant support from local construction business with in-kind donations,” Cooper said. “Almost 30 percent of construction costs have been donated.”

The city has owned Allandale since Harvey Brooks’ death in 1969. Brooks left his home, including many of its furnishings, several outbuildings, and 25 acres featuring two manmade ponds, to the city. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen was given a year to determine whether or not to accept his gift, which came with two primary provisions: the house must be maintained in the same manner as when its former owners were alive, and it must be devoted to public use. Had the city turned the gift down, the property would have reverted back to the Brooks’ heirs.

Tickets to “Music at the Mansion” are available online through Vendini, at the symphony office or at the amphitheater on the day of the event. Tickets are $20 for adults, $5 for children and students and $15 for adults 55 and older. Group prices are available. There will be free parking in front of the mansion and barn, or in the field behind the venue.

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