Music, Nature Dazzle

The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra and its guest artists gave a dazzling show for Music Under the Stars, despite having to tangle with the real-life pyrotechnics of Mother Nature last weekend.

A large crowd filled Oglebay Park’s Anne Kuchinka Amphitheater for the free concert last Sunday evening. Audience members definitely were impressed by the musical brilliance demonstrated once again by composer and pianist Nathan Strasser.

The Wheeling native, who now resides in Nashville, played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the orchestra and introduced the world premiere of “For the Love of Music,” a piece that he was commissioned to write for the WSO’s 90th anniversary. Strasser related that the new piece expresses his love for his hometown and celebrates the important influence that the Wheeling Symphony has had on his life and musical career.

Audience members gave well-deserved standing ovations to Strasser, conductor John Devlin and the orchestra’s musicians after the performance of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “For the Love of Music.”

The audience also responded enthusiastically to the upbeat sets that guest vocalist Ezra John Hamilton and his band, Hit Play, performed with the orchestra. They played well-known pops selections from the first 90 years of the WSO’s existence.

Unfortunately, the last musical sets with Hamilton, Hit Play and the orchestra were canceled abruptly when the concert was halted because of the sudden appearance of lightning in close proximity to the outdoor venue. As people exited the packed amphitheater, technicians set off a fireworks show that was supposed to end the free concert. As a result, visitors viewed a dueling battle between the man-made pyrotechnics and the natural light show.

It was a night of “firsts” for Devlin, who made his official debut as the Wheeling Symphony’s new music director. When Devlin made the announcement that the concert had to be cut short because of the lightning, he remarked that it was the first time he had encountered a weather issue during a performance.


A performance of a different sort was offered for the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch With Books series recently.

Singer Karen Collins and Radford (Va.) University history professor Richard Straw presented a tribute to the late Hazel Dickens, a West Virginia native who was a well-known bluegrass singer, songwriter and labor activist.

During the Aug. 27 multi-media presentation, Collins performed several of Dickens’ songs, including “Black Lung,” “The Mannington Mine Disaster,” “They’ll Never Keep Us Down,” “Working Girl Blues” and “West Virginia, My Home.” Straw shared details of Dickens’ life and observations that he gleaned from his interview with the singer-songwriter.

Collins, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, said she was asked to sing “Black Lung” at the U.S. Senate Office Building recently when miners rallied to seek more benefits. “It was a very moving experience,” she said.

Straw, a scholar of Southern music, said he conducted a formal interview with Dickens in 1984, in a session that stretched over four hours. He described their talk as “an extraordinary experience.” An article based on their conversation was published later in the Appalachian Journal.

In Dickens’ later years, people began to identify her as “a carrier of culture,” Straw said. Dickens, who was born in Montcalm, West Virginia, in 1925, died in 2011.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net


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