From Sunday’s column:
Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s first performance was in 1953 in a high school auditorium. Today, the orchestra has 83 musicians, a $1.7 million budget, and plays with the likes of Willie Nelson and Sir James Galway, the most famous flutist in the world.
This year, the symphony celebrates its 60th anniversary season with ambitions big and small.
In the spring, RSO added 13 new musicians to the 70 already on hand, allowing the orchestra to produce some massive sound when everyone’s present, as they will be during their Oct. 7 season opening concert.
Yet the symphony has also changed its masterworks series in an effort to reach smaller corners of the community. The nonprofit will give three big concerts at the Roanoke Civic Center and one at Jefferson Center, but it will also introduce four “destination concerts” – two at Mill Mountain Theatre, one at Calvary Baptist Church in southwest Roanoke, and one at The Green Room, located inside the symphony’s new offices at Campbell Avenue and Williamson Road.
By making more intimate venues part of its regular season, RSO is harkening back to its 1950s roots, when rehearsals took place inside St. John’s Episcopal Church at Elm Avenue and Jefferson Street, said RSO Executive Director Beth Pline.
To celebrate its diamond anniversary, the symphony will delve further into its roots, creating an exhibition detailing its 60-year history as recorded in the pages of The Roanoke Times. Created with a grant from the Landmark Foundation (before the newspaper’s purchase by BH Media Group in May), the exhibition will be displayed at RSO’s 2013-14 concerts starting on opening night.
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra began as a grass-roots effort under the leadership of volunteer conductor Gibson Morrissey . RSO’s very first concert took place March 31, 1953, in the Jefferson High School auditorium. Reviews of the show betray the skepticism the venture faced in its day, with the Roanoke World-News dubbing the “near-professional” performance a “miracle.” Rival newspaper The Roanoke Times declared that “any performance would have been a complete triumph,” but Morrissey “made it a real musical triumph.”
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