Wheeling Symphony Orchestra Celebrates With Music Under the Stars
WHEELING — Elements of something old, new and even “blue” will be interwoven in the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s Music Under the Stars concert next Sunday.
The free performance will launch the WSO’s 90th season in the place where the orchestra began — Oglebay Park’s amphitheater.
Conductor John Devlin will make his official debut as the Wheeling Symphony’s new music director. Wheeling native Nathan Strasser will return to present the world premiere of a new work that he wrote for the WSO’s 90th anniversary and to play “Rhapsody in Blue” with the orchestra.
The WSO musicians will take the stage at the Anne Kuchinka Amphitheater at 7:30 p.m. next Sunday. Prior to the concert, Wheeling Country Day School’s choir will perform at 7 p.m. The celebration will conclude with fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
“I am incredibly excited to be conducting my first concert as music director of the Wheeling Symphony on such a special occasion: the 90th anniversary of the organization,” Devlin said.
The conductor said the program will feature music throughout the decades in celebration of the WSO’s 90th year.
“The concert is going to open with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, the first piece that the Wheeling Symphony played on the same stage, in the same place. What a fitting way to begin a concert of that type,” he said.
For the Brahms work and for several other pieces on the program, members of the Wheeling Symphony Youth Orchestra will perform side-by-side with their mentors.
“One of the things so special about the Wheeling Symphony is that it oversees a youth orchestra system. They will join the professionals on stage to perform a couple of standard tunes and highlights from the musical, ‘Wicked,'” he said. “The youth orchestra being involved is a really cool element.”
Throughout the evening, musical tributes will be paid to the WSO’s first concert and ones that followed. The band Hit Play and Ezra Hamilton will join the orchestra to present special arrangements of popular music through the decades.
“It’s fun to do symbolic hits from each of the decades,” Devlin said.
Pieces from artists as diverse as the Beatles, Marvin Gaye and Justin Timberlake will be performed. The show will end with Hit Play returning to offer hits from the 1990s through today.
The conductor said the first half of the concert will close with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with Strasser as the piano soloist.
Devlin believes strongly in performing great American music for orchestra; he considers “Rhapsody in Blue” to be “one of the best pieces” in that genre.
“It’s one of my favorite pieces, and I’ve never been able to conduct it (previously),” he added.
The second half of Music Under the Stars will open with the premiere of Strasser’s piece, “For the Love of Music,” commissioned by the Wheeling Symphony for this anniversary concert.
“It is extraordinary,” Devlin said, describing Strasser’s composition. “It has fanfare material, with some nods to Americana in ways that sound very much like West Virginia.”
The music director lauded Strasser for having “such a magnificent musical ability” as both a performer and a composer.
“The Gershwin is one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire, and to be able to compose, that’s Leornard Bernstein-esque,” Devlin commented.
Devlin said Strasser’s success demonstrates “one of the most telling indications of why it’s important to have an orchestra. It (Wheeling) is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, cities that supports a professional orchestra.
It’s not only a joy to people who come, but also to have someone like Nate.”
Strasser is looking forward to the concert. “I’m really excited. It will be fun,” he said.
Describing his inspiration for the 90th anniversary commission, Strasser said, “It’s based off my experience with music and the symphony and how it has inspired me over the years.”
The new work features two main themes, with “a big fanfare” that recalls “the first time I heard a symphony orchestra. The first time I went to the Wheeling Symphony, I was about 5 years old,” he said.
The composition incorporates “a more lyrical, delicate theme interwoven throughout the piece,” he said. “It represents my journey through music.”
Strasser, who now lives and works in Nashville, said, “It’s a piece of music that I hope a lot of people who love music can relate to. It’s about how music can inspire people and heal people and bring people together. Iit’s not just my experience with music.”
The Wheeling native also is excited to play “Rhapsody in Blue” again. “I love the piece so much. It has some jazz influence but still holds true to classical symphonic music,” he said.
Strasser is enthused about working with Devlin and the musicians. “I love any piece of music that I play with the symphony,” he added.
He also is happy with the prospect of seeing family and friends in his hometown.
“Going to Music Under the Stars always was a favorite event when I was growing up,” he remarked.
Music Under the Stars has been a Labor Day tradition for thousands of area residents.
To enhance the festivities, the Wheeling Symphony auxiliary is holding a Veranda reception, beginning at 5 p.m. next Sunday, on the Burton Porch at Oglebay Park. There is a charge to attend the reception. For reservations, call the symphony office at 304-232-6191.
Concert-goers can purchase additional dinner concessions from food trucks and an ice cream sundae bar. The Ziegenfelder Co. will offer free BudgetSaver twin pops. Children’s activities in the Formal Gardens will start at 6 p.m.
Devlin has one request for concert-goers: “Just join us in praying for no rain.”
However, in the event of inclement weather, concert organizers advise the public to check the Wheeling Symphony’s website and Facebook pages for more information.
Music Under the Stars is supported by these sponsors; Wheeling Hospital, C.A. House Music and Riesbeck’s Food Markets.