The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra played an open-air concert at Elmwood Park on Saturday night, which came at the end of a daylong Star City Arts Festival.
The orchestra, conducted by David Stewart Wiley, was joined by members of the RSO Chorus, and the Southwest Virginia Ballet, directed by Pedro Szalay.
The program was very eclectic, including classical, Latin, cartoon music, folk, jazz, film and patriotic music, along with Broadway tunes . In sum, it was a joyous celebration of instrumental music as well as dancing and singing.
The weather was cloudy and refreshingly cool; the park was absolutely packed, and all the reserved seats at the tables near the front of the stage were full.
The program began with a rousing “Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Despite the amplification, it got a clean and generally well-coordinated rendition, including a beautiful oboe solo from Bill Parrish. The symphony was immediately followed by the Walter Murphy disco hit “A Fifth of Beethoven,” in which Wiley briefly displayed his funky piano playing.
To an evocative Danzon by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, the young dancers of the ballet company displayed their considerable talents, changing style and tempo right up to a very exciting ending.
A medley of cartoon music, including snippets of famous classical tunes, was given an appropriately peppy and humorous performance.
Wiley’s own very melodic “Concentric Circles” from the film “Lake Effects” was followed by his arrangement “Taking Care of Elmwood,” based on pop hits. For this piece, conducted by Wayne Gallops, Wiley played at the piano and even sang, with back-up from members of the RSO chorus.
The first half of the program ended with six members of the ballet company returning to dance in Celtic style to a vibrant and energizing “Lord of the Dance.”
The second half began with a set of jazz standards associated with Louis Armstrong, which allowed the brass section of the orchestra to shine.
Bizet’s familiar “March of the Toreadors” from “Carmen” provided the accompaniment for the young men of the ballet, allowing them to show off their impressive athletic skills.
The next set on the program featured music from movies and a television show associated with space. It began with a riveting opening to Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” better known as the music for “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
A brief but thunderous sound clip of the actual launch of Apollo 13 was used as an introduction to James Horner’s heroic music for the movie, a truly moving moment for the audience; and then several tunes from “Star Trek” followed. Wiley led superb performances of all of these pieces.
The last portion of the concert included an intensely patriotic set.
The chorus sang Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” with two solo dancers providing excellent choreography, followed by Berlin’s “God Bless America,” with the audience joining in lustily on the refrain.
The Armed Forces Salute allowed the crowd to clap in honor of the service men and women among us. The whole evening came to a stunning climax with the singing and playing of “America the Beautiful.”
For an encore, Wiley donned a costume and led with a light sabre the main theme from John Williams’ “Star Wars,” much to the delight of everyone.
Timothy Gaylard is a professor of music at Washington and Lee University.