WHEELING - Andre Raphel, music director and conductor of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, believes the second half of the 2012-13 season offers a fitting preview of coming attractions for the orchestra's new direction.
In a joint interview, Raphel and Bruce Wheeler, symphony executive director, reflected on the challenges and opportunities that await the Wheeling Symphony in coming years.
"I think the second half of the season embodies much of what I think is important for the organization," Raphel remarked. "We have programs and initiatives that focus the attention of the community and folks around the state on the quality of the orchestra and the power of music to move people."
The Masterworks and pops series attract a diverse audience to the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra concerts.
For instance, in March, the symphony will perform traditional works by Mozart and Respighi and a contemporary concerto by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon and will host a residency by Higdon, "one of our finest American composers," Raphel said.
Demonstrating the orchestra's relevancy and prominent position in West Virginia, the WSO is commissioning composer Kenneth Fuchs to write a fanfare for orchestra to celebrate the state's sesquicentennial on June 20. Fuchs' work also will be arranged for band and will be made available to schools around the state.
Commissioning a musical work for a historic occasion is "a very nice message for an arts organization to be able to send," the conductor said. "In addition to the great importance for everyone in the city as a celebration of the state, it also gives us a way to take the music to different communities and to make a very important statement about this orchestra."
Describing his role in the orchestra's operation, Wheeler said, "Andre (Raphel) is like the chef and I am the restaurateur responsible for bringing people to the table to taste his repertoire. I keep trying to send that message of the power of live music."
Bridging the gap between traditional approaches to music and modern technology remains a challenge for today's orchestras. "We're trying to merge those technological things," Wheeler said. To that end, during Higdon's residency, she will lead a class for composition students across the state over the Internet.
Noting that residencies connect guest artists to the community, Raphel said, "I think it does have an effect on the connection. Our programs, our initiatives, make a really important statement about what the orchestra does and what we should be doing."
The WSO's ensembles go into the community to perform and present educational programs. Thus, the musicians "are able to touch a few more people" in addition to those who attend concerts at the Capitol Theatre, Wheeler said.
Discussing the importance of exposing the public to symphonic music, the executive director remarked, "I think there are a lot of things out there that people like that they don't know that they like."
Introducing children to the arts helps to build audiences and enhance their cultural awareness. The WSO shares music at St. Michael Parish School in Wheeling through a grant from the Community Foundation for the Upper Ohio Valley. "Now we're able to reach into more schools and get it funded," Wheeler said.
The long-term future entails "really finding a way to connect with the next generation, whether that manifests through the college series or young people's concerts or adult series, that's going to help move us forward," Raphel said. "The diversification that Bruce (Wheeler) speaks about is very important."
Programming contemporary pieces for the Masterworks series and nontraditional offerings for pops concerts "helps the community view the orchestra in a different way. It's a positive thing," Raphel said. "It's great to see the kind of appreciation from the orchestra. They like to make music ... It's good to see them embracing so many kinds of music."
While classical music lovers might have scoffed at jazz in George Gershwin's era, when music was categorized as "high brow" or "low brow," Raphel observed, "Our worlds have come together much closer musically ... Now all of those things are very much closer together.
"Musically, we have to find ways to embrace that ... by finding ways to make music that respects many different perspectives," the music director added.
Regarding challenges of financing the symphony's operations, Wheeler said, "It hasn't been easy. I think we are blessed in Wheeling to have a decent amount of endowment funds. Those, of course, took a hit with the downturn of the economy. But we're coming out of that.
"It's never easy for nonprofit arts organizations to make the case for the quality of life to bring art into your life," Wheeler commented.
Making that case, Raphel said, "What we have is the power of music to sort of refocus on what's really important. That's the joy of working and being part of this profession - to see how the music moves people emotionally and how it galvanizes a community.
"Those things I believe influence the financial part of things," Raphel commented. "If people feel there is great value in what you're doing, they're more likely to support it."