On the Road … with Chip Brienza
When I took my seat in the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, WV, little did I know I would feel ... right at home. I mean here, like I was at the Kennedy Center, or Strathmore, or Wolf Trap.
As the program got underway – it was the opening gala concert of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s new season – I found myself looking around this historic landmark, the largest theater in West Virginia; reminding myself that I was not at the National, or the Warner.
The music, composers, (and) conductor - all have ties to the Metro music scene. A concert highlight, the world premiere of acclaimed composer Evan Meier, Chair, Music Theory and Composition at the Levine School and Grammy nominated DC based hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon. WSO Music Director, John Devlin commissioned and collaborated on the piece, Migrations in Rhythm, in which music and lyrics survey the history, connections and cultural richness in the evolution of American music.
Evan Meier told me, “We wove many different styles into a narrative that tells a story of American music. That the audience responded to this music so enthusiastically truly amazed me.” He credited Christylez Bacon’s ability to connect with particularly young audiences. The performance includes virtuosic improvisation by Mr. Bacon with audience participation. Mr. Meier also added that it was extraordinary to see a community that has faced economic challenges as a small rust belt city so enthusiastically support its symphony. A world premiere, a full house, wild applause, in Wheeling WV.
Maestro Devlin, whose DC ties include a stint with the NSO under Eschenbach and Noseda, and a critically hailed NSO conducting debut, talked about the importance of regional orchestras like the WSO and his mission to “feature American artists of all backgrounds, create relevant and dynamic concert formats and to promote the creativity of musicians.” To this end, he is well served by an outstanding ensemble of talented musicians, many of whom also teach and play in nearby Pittsburgh.
Throughout the year, Maestro Devlin not only invites people into his musical world through the concert series, he also takes it to them with a full schedule of school and community based events. With the community’s support, it seems to me, Maestro Devlin has the freedom to be more daring and innovative than some big city counterparts.
This gala concert featured the work of seven living American composers, including Pulitzer Prize winning Caroline Shaw’s deeply affecting “Entr’acte”. Oh, and not to bury the lead, the concert was headlined by Yo-Yo Ma, with John Williams Cello Concerto! The symphony’s next outing is a program called Symphonic Soul, continuing the 2023 season’s theme, “American Stories”.
For me, the WSO in not so far away. Wheeling WV provides yet another example of the power of music - to surprise, to fill one with a sense of awe, to make one feel at home, wherever one may be. So, when you’re outside the DMV, check out the music making where you are; and maybe you’ll find a delightful surprise awaits you.
Stream tens of thousands of hours of your PBS and local favorites with WETA Passport whenever and wherever you want. Catch up on a single episode or binge-watch full seasons before they air on TV.