As more folks are putting the Covid lockdowns in the rearview mirror, larger gatherings are reoccurring, as seen by the crowds at the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s (RSO) “Symphony Under the Stars” on Saturday, August 26. The hillside amphitheater in Roanoke’s Elmwood Park was packed by music-lovers as the sun went down, the temperature dropped, and the excitement rose as Maestro David Stewart Wiley took the baton and launched the RSO’s 71st year.
In an age tarnished by so much disappointment with failed leadership, Wiley stands out as a bright success. The RSO board just announced they had extended his contract for another four years, making him the longest-tenured Conductor in their seven-decade history. In fact, Maestro Wiley was recently honored during his 25th season leading the RSO by the governor and a joint bipartisan resolution in the Virginia General Assembly.
Moreover, in an age where wokeness and “cancel culture” hold sway and intimidate many into silence, the music program for the evening was an unabashed celebration of America and common bonds that hold us together as a people. The opening piece was the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, and the audience instinctively rose to their feet with right hand over hearts. Near the end of the program, for God Bless America, the crowd did the same. Other patriotic tunes included Star Spangled Spectacular, America the Beautiful, and an Armed Forces Salute where members of each service rose when that branch’s hymn was played.
It was also a fun-loving evening, with lighthearted pieces including Bugs Bunny’s Greatest Hits, Satchmo Medley, Colonel Bogey March, Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady, and The Typewriter (including a man pounding along on an old-school Underwood).
Additional entertainment came from the RSO Chorus and Southwest Virginia Ballet, under the skilled guidance of Pedro Szalay.
With money tight and inflation high, the free admission was a welcome gift for the community. Multiple ethnicities were seen in the audience as well as an age range from families with young children to the elderly in wheelchairs. One couple said their two-year-old grandchild was having a ball, dancing and jumping to the music.
Showing he understands Southwest Virginia values, Maestro Wiley closed the evening with this benediction: “Be safe driving home, treat each other kindly, and God bless.”
(The only evident drawback to the event was the lack of restrooms. About a dozen portable toilets had been installed but, judging from the long line, that was inadequate for a crowd of that size. Moreover, since intermission was held after night had fallen, the small red and green “occupied/available” signs over the door handles were hard to see in the dark. Thus, some stalls remained empty because, with no one going out, those waiting in line didn’t realize there were open toilets to use.)
The RSO 2023-24 season will continue on October 19 with “Jazz Meets Classical” at the Taubman Museum of Art. Later performances include “Sounds of Sinatra,” Handel’s Messiah, Ode to Joy, and lots more.
More information and tickets can be found at RSO.com.