by Gene Marrano
The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, which announced its 2011-2012 Masterworks series of concerts several weeks ago, has now released its Picnic at the Pops series as well. The expanded series will include four concerts at the Salem Civic Center between October 2011 and March 2012.
The series is known for its casual “picnic” setting with table seating on the floor at the Civic Center. There is actually one more Pops concert this current season: The “RSO Rocks” British Invasion concert on June 4 features some of the best-known pop music to come out of England in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Tunes from Queen, Pink Floyd and The Who will be part of what Musical Director David Stewart Wiley calls “a fun, high energy evening of music.”
Wiley also said the season comes to a close with things looking good for the RSO: “I’m thrilled with the response of our community and the audience [this past season]. Our Masterworks subscriptions were up again. We sold out the Beethoven’s 9th [concert in March].”
Financially, Wiley said the orchestra is “stable [in] challenging times. We have a business plan and a really great team. I feel like we are all rowing in the same direction as an organization.” The other orchestra Wiley leads, the Long Island (NY) Philharmonic, had to cut its upcoming season back due to budget constraints; in contrast, the RSO is adding dates, including the additional Pops concert. Wiley lost a conducting gig himself when a symphony in New Mexico filed for bankruptcy. “There are issues [with classical orchestras] all over the country,” he notes.
For 2011-2012, Billy Ocean kicks things off for the Pops series on October 21. Ocean has sold over 30 million records and is perhaps best known for the million-selling No. 1 single “Caribbean Queen,” for which he won a Grammy. “We have people that prefer one or the other,” said Wiley of the Pops and Masterworks series, “but we have really made an effort to increase the diversity and connections with our community.”
The “Holiday Pops Spectacular” on December 9 features soprano Adelaide Muir Trombetta, the Hollins University Choir, the Roanoke College Children’s Choir and the Mill Mountain [handbell] Ringers.
KC & The Sunshine Band join the RSO on March 30, 2012. Harry Wayne Casey – KC -and The Sunshine Band have sold over 100 million records, received nine Grammy nominations, three Grammy Awards and an American Music Award. KC & The Sunshine Band became the first act to score four No. 1 pop singles in one twelve-month period. Three of those singles crossed over to become No. 1 R&B.
The last Pops series concert of the 2011-2012 season features the Canadian band Jeans ‘n Classics in the 5th Annual collaboration known as “RSO Rocks.” The RSO and Jeans ‘n Classics, with lead vocalist Michael Shotton, will present “One Vision: The Music of Queen” on June 2, 2012 at 8 p.m.
Other RSO events next season, which has the theme “Art that Entertains,” have Wiley looking ahead with anticipation. A Masterworks concert in October featuring bluegrass music is demonstrative of a connection to music with local roots. “We are excited about that,” said Wiley, who is also looking forward to the first Star City International Piano Competition next January. Finalists invited to Roanoke for a “play off” will be selected from audio selections sent in via mail or e-mail.
“That should be an exciting event for our region. This is a way for us to discover a star of the future,” said Wiley. Hollins University and Jefferson Center are collaborating with the RSO for the competition. Wiley took part in piano competitions himself as a young musician.
Meanwhile the ever-upbeat maestro looks forward to the new season, even as the current one has yet to conclude with the June 4 Picnic at the Pops British Invasion concert. “The community continues to support us and we’re sticking to our plan,” said Wiley, “but we should never take for granted the success we have had. We have to do more to reach out and build new audiences, to take some chances. I think this is our best season yet [coming up]. Our professional musicians are excited as well.”