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Symphony brings spirit in annual music show
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Conductor David Wiley, performs Saturday in the Martinsville High School auditorium. This was the group’s seventh program at the school. The show was sponsored by Piedmont Arts as part of its On Stage! series. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus returned to Martinsville Saturday night, offering up a diverse mix of holiday songs both new and old at the Holiday Pops Spectacular.
The event, sponsored by Piedmont Arts Association (PAA) as part of its On Stage! series, is now in its seventh year, according to Barbara Parker, director of programs for PAA.
“In my personal opinion, this is the best of the seven,” Parker said. “Every year, there’s something special that makes it different from the years before. It just makes people get in the mood for the holiday season.”
Parker spoke highly of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and its music director and conductor, David Wiley, who also serves concurrently as conductor of New York’s Long Island Philharmonic.
“We are so lucky to have them right up the road,” Parker said. “David Wiley is a genius. He stresses that ‘we’re your orchestra.’ He wants people to feel like: ‘This music is for me. It’s for everyone.’”
Parker said that attendance for Saturday’s performance was between 1,200 and 1,300 people, which is consistent with past performances. The Martinsville High School auditorium appeared to be nearly full.
Even before the show began, music filled the auditorium lobby as the Virginia All-Steel Orchestra performed a mix of holiday songs and pop hits both classic and contemporary.
Once the crowd had gathered inside the theater and the orchestra and choir had assembled, Parker introduced Wiley, who took the stage and opened by expressing his gratitude to the audience.
“It’s always a homecoming to be here with you,” Wiley said, before launching the orchestra into a spirited rendition of “Joy to the World.”
For the second piece of the evening, Wiley introduced guest vocalist Elizabeth Crot, Miss Virginia 2011. Crot lended her vocal talents to multiple pieces throughout the concert, beginning with Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” or “Praise Be to God.”
Crot described her term as Miss Virginia as “a dream come true” and explained that she has spent a lot of time touring schools and speaking to students on the importance of embracing differences.
“One of things I love about this state,” Crot said, “Is that it’s so diverse.”
One of the centerpieces of the evening was a suite from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Wiley explained that the suite featured a song that composer Dimitri Tiomkin wrote for the film but was not included in the final cut.
Wiley said that the song, titled “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was intended to be included in the film after the song “Buffalo Gals.”
The score for this “lost song” only recently became available, and according to Wiley, the Saturday performance may well have been the first performance of the song in Virginia.
Wiley said that after playing the song on the piano for his children, he’s heard both of them singing it multiple times.
The suite ended with “Auld Lang Syne,” the traditional New Year’s Eve favorite that is sung at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The concert featured many other highlights, including a rendition of “Sleigh Ride” that featured Wiley pulling double duty as both conductor and sleigh driver, cracking a “whip” (a piece of leather affixed to a wooden slat) to simulate driving horses. At the end of the song, one of the trumpets produced a convincing horse whinny, triggering laughter among the audience.
Other highlights included several fast-paced medleys of Christmas favorites, Crot’s rendition of the swing number “Santa Baby,” and an audience sing-along of Christmas favorites “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Silver Bells,” “White Christmas” and others.
The program ended on a note of applause and multiple encores.
Audience member and Bassett resident Greg Morris said that “it’s a lovely concert. I’m pleased to see this support.”
Joe Pritchett Jr. of Martinsville was similarly pleased. “I thought it was magnificent,” he said, adding that the show took him back to when he was a Martinsville High School student and performed in Christmas productions.
At the end of the show, Wiley told the audience, “Your voices, your singing definitely put me in the mood for the holidays. Thank you very much, and merry Christmas.”