It seems appropriate, as I work on putting together an arts column about the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s 60th birthday, that there’s a debate going out in our Letters to the Editor pages about what constitutes success for a regional orchestra. I’d love to hear other folks weigh in.
On March 14, the Letters section ran a note from W.L. “Lefty” McLawhorn of Roanoke, a season ticket holder to the RSO “Pops” series.
I am a season ticket holder to the Roanoke pops concerts. I was one of those fortunate enough to see Bernadette Peters render a terrific performance Friday night. I was stunned that the Salem Civic Center was not sold out for the show.
In December, I saw Kenny G perform with the Piedmont Wind Orchestra in Winston-Salem. It is attempting to do something very similar to our pops series, bringing in artists to perform with the orchestra. I could not help but notice the value added that Maestro David Wiley brings to our community.
He is such an asset to the Roanoke Valley. His reputation in the world of music and the networks he has developed over the years have brought the likes of Art Garfunkel, Peters, KC & the Sunshine Band, Billy Ocean and many others to our valley.
If you aren’t supporting the Roanoke Symphony, you are missing out on one of the Roanoke Valley’s brightest stars.
McLawhorn’s letter drew a pointed reply today from Bendy Goodfriend, violinist for the Kandinsky Trio, a man who’s not shy with his opinions.
W.L. “Lefty” McLawhorn’s letter of March 14, “Roanoke’s conductor pulls in the talent,” is indicative of how far down the slippery slope orchestras (particularly Roanoke’s) have fallen with regards to pops concerts.
Orchestra pops concerts were originally conceived as a means to fund the classical concerts, a necessary evil in the quest to keep classical music vital. What has ensued is a breeding ground for aging rockers, has-been crooners and Broadway stars.
Contrary to McLawhorn’s assertions, the appearance of these performers has nothing whatsoever to do with the reputation of an orchestra or that of its conductor. Half of the time these so-called artists don’t even know what orchestra they are performing with, as evidenced by Tony Bennett’s appearance with the RSO when he thanked the “uh, Virginia Orchestra.”
This has everything to do with the grotesque proportion of orchestras’ budgets allocated for these concerts at the expense of the true artists and repertoire that should be paramount in the mission of a symphony orchestra.