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Wheeling Symphony Overcomes Challenges

February 23, 2011

WHEELING - When he began as Wheeling Symphony Orchestra executive director in June 2009, Bruce Wheeler knew the challenges that came with the position. But, according to Wheeler, overcoming challenges is what he enjoys.

Like most other organizations, the symphony has faced hard times during the economic downturn.

"The past year has been pretty rough," said Wheeler.

In an average year, ticket sales for symphony shows account for around 15 percent of the organization's revenue. In a prosperous year, that number can rise to about 25 percent, Wheeler said.

The symphony relies heavily on state and federal grants, as well as individual donations to supplement costs not covered by ticket sales.

Wheeler said endowments to the symphony are down 30 percent, which means 30 percent less revenue.

Fact Box

How well has the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra done during the recent economic downturn?

Fairly well, even though Executive Director Bruce Wheeler admits the past year has been hard. But with the symphony back at the Capitol Theatre, Wheeler believes only good days are ahead.

However, those determined to see the orchestra continue to provide the Ohio Valley with quality, symphonic music have come forward with much-needed donations. This season's College Concert Series was made possible by such a donation, Wheeler said.

The three-concert series targeted students, faculty and alumni of 10 area universities and colleges. Tickets were made available to students free of charge. Additionally, faculty and alumni were offered tickets at half-price.

Past college series concerts included the Masterworks II on Nov. 5 with guest guitarist Eliot Fisk and Masterworks III on Feb. 18 with violinist Mark O'Connor.

Wheeler called the Masterworks III concert with O'Connor the "highlight" of the season.

The series will conclude with the Pops III concert on April 8, featuring the music of Led Zeppelin with guest artist Jeans 'n Classics.

A $50,000 grant provided partly through the National Endowment for the Arts enabled the symphony to create four chamber ensembles. Those string, wind, brass and percussion ensembles performed for guests free of charge.

Wheeler created the annual Heritage Music BluesFest more than 10 years ago. He noted that event began to thrive when its focus turned to the overall quality of the music, rather than individual performers.

Wheeler said marketing for the symphony is being done in a similar fashion, as classical artists may not garner the same name recognition as acts in other music genres. According to Wheeler, the WSO is selling "content" and "results."

"We're offering live music performed incredibly well," he stated. "If an audience member gives us a couple of hours, they'll walk out a little richer."

As for the future, Wheeler said the current trend in the orchestra world is taking classical music "high-tech." He pointed to the New World Center, the Miami campus of the New World Symphony. The facility features a 7,000-square-foot projection wall on which concerts can be shown to viewers in a public park.

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