The Loudoun Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Mark Allen McCoy. Contributed photo.
By Liz Tenney Jarvis.
Twenty five years ago, several musicians came together in order to play classical music. In 1991, the group, then called the Loudoun Community Orchestra, played for an audience at Loudoun Valley High School. A few years later, known as the Loudoun Symphony Association, orchestral musicians under the direction of conductor Jed Gaylin began their journey to bring classical music to listeners of all ages in Loudoun County.
One of the few players in that original group of 25 years ago is current member Michael Rohrer. Over the years, Rohrer has been a board member, Treasurer and Executive Director of the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra, and continues to work as the bookkeeper and accounting manager. He has seen big changes since the early days. “One of the biggest changes has been in the quality of the orchestra,” Rohrer says. “When we started in 1991, it was just a few people who wanted to get together, and for the first few years we struggled just to have a regular conductor.” When Maestro Jed Gaylin joined as conductor, his tenure was six or seven years, according to Rohrer. From that point, the structure was more formalized, with a main orchestra and a sub-entity which would be the youth orchestra, a set-up that remains to this day.
Under Maestro Gaylin, the orchestra made great strides, because, as Rohrer indicates, “in the beginning, pretty much anybody who was interested could show up and start to play, so once we got a little more structure into it, we began to audition players and that improved the quality.” Once Gaylin left the area and joined a large orchestra in New Jersey, Maestro Mark Allen McCoy came onboard as the Music Director and Conductor. “Mark really has played the biggest role in shaping and making the symphony change over the yearsâ€¦he has steadily improved upon and increased the quality of the players – the auditions have become such that you have to be a really good player to get in,” said Rohrer. In some instances, as other orchestras grow and improve, the less skilled are “kicked out,” as Rohrer says. “It’s been nice as some of the earlier players who may not have been good players stayed on as we never asked them to leave – we just steadily improved from within. Then as players left or moved out of the area, we filled those positions with better and better ones to the point where we have a very fine group – that is the biggest change over the 25 years, as the orchestra is just excellent now.” Musicians are currently auditioned by the conductor, the concertmaster and four other orchestra members who are voted in by fellow players. That group listens to all of the auditions and plans the program for the upcoming season.
Musicians have also come up through Loudoun Symphony’s Youth Orchestra program. The Loudoun Symphony has fostered Strings programs in the county schools where previously they had not existed. Other programs include Ensembles for Everyone, Loudoun String Workshop, Loudoun’s Got Talent and Bring the Concert to Your School. The ages of those individuals within the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra range from members in their 20s to some in their 70s. They come from all over the county but are not limited to residents of the county. The youth programs are part of what Rohrer refers to as “an investment in the quality of life.” He believes that the county, educational entities and businesses should get behind efforts to construct a concert hall where all Symphony programs (plus ballet performances and other cultural events) can be centralized and flourish.
Rehearsals have always been in the high schools. “Stone Bridge High School has been especially supportive for quite some time. We have had almost all of our rehearsals there,” Rohrer said. The biggest challenge over the years has then not been rehearsal space but finding the right size venues for the performances. Rohrer said, “Loudoun is about the only county around here that does not have a large performing arts center. Prince William has the beautiful Hilton Center in Manassas, which is affiliated with George Mason, and Fairfax has the center down at GMU, Alexandria has the Schlesinger (Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center).” This is a personal frustration for Rohrer, as he believes that “after 25 years I would hope that we would have finally gotten a large performing arts center, this orchestra is so good these days that it really deserves to play in a hall that has great acoustics,on that level.”
For several years the Loudoun County Orchestra played at the Community Church in Ashburn, which felt like a home to them (LSO), until the schedule of performances and church services could no longer be coordinated. Rohrer stated that, “We would come up with a schedule for when we wanted to have our concerts and then we would go to the high schools; however, the schools’ priority being their programs and not knowing their performance schedules before we did our planning – some years we struggled to find high schools to play in and it seemed as though we were like the ‘wandering minstrels’ of the county. We would have to travel to high schools all over the county, which in a way is good because other people get to see us but is bad because nobody knows where to find you unless they are specifically looking for you.” This year (season), the orchestra decided to expand the venues where they would play. Starting with Stone Bridge High School and then the Community Church to the National Conference Center at West Belmont Place and in March, the Middleburg Community Center – all fine venues according to Rohrer, but again, as he believes, not the kind of concert hall that a county such as Loudoun should have given the status of being the fastest-growing county in the U.S. and its relative affluence. Another venue being featured this year is the Franklin Park Arts Center.
The Franklin Park Arts Center itself, the result of years of fundraising, community outreach and finally County funds, was initially the vision of a group of artists and patrons of the arts – not unlike the humble beginnings of the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra. When Franklin Park Arts Center first opened, Rohrer as then-Executive Director was determined to play in its first season despite the smaller stage. The idea behind the series of Chamber Music concerts, which were outside of the regular symphony, would be that member musicians would form their own individual groups. The members would get together with other members to put on some of these smaller Chamber works. The programs were all constructed by the musicians themselves; “we’ve put great programs together over the years and it has become a regular part of our symphony schedule,” said Rohrer. He finds it gratifying because Rohrer recalls the early days of making up these programs in, as he says, “a very democratic sort of way.” He recalls making the posters himself with David Hughes; Hughes has served as Principal Clarinetist in the Loudoun Symphony since 1992 and has been on its Board off and on since 1998 – he also coordinates its chamber music concert series. In years past everyone pitched in to make the smaller chamber concert series get off of the ground. Rohrer is happy to see that is still happening all of these years later and so fitting for the size of Franklin Park Arts Center.
On Sunday, Feb. 21, the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra will play several pieces, as in years past, all chosen by the groups of orchestra members who will be playing. Presented as a “a chamber concert featuring a variety of small ensembles on a number of pieces to delight – from the Rossini Sonata No. 2 and Hoagy Carmichael’s "Stardust" to the Rimsky-Korsakov "Procession of the Nobles," Franklin Park Arts Center Manager, Elizabeth Bracey, is thrilled to have the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra perform. Bracey states that while the stage is not big enough to host the entire orchestra, the banked seating allows the audience to see the musicians, and the venue’s smaller size (seating 250) creates a more relaxed and inviting feeling. “The Chamber Music Concert can be an affordable introduction to both classical and contemporary selections. The community knows we are a friendly and inviting place, so perhaps that is a chance for people less familiar with an orchestra performance to come out and listen to the beautiful music in a less formal setting.” Bracey thinks that the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra can, in turn, feel the support of the audience directly, as the space is an intimate one – the players can sense the enjoyment of the listeners. In the past, this kind of performance may have been a bit intimidating for some attendees, while now, great strides have been made by Loudoun Symphony Orchestra to bring classical music to all.
Stephen Robin, LSO vice president, Executive Board of Directors, believes the symphony is an important resource for Loudoun County. "To this point in its history the Symphony has successfully appealed to a relatively narrow audience, especially given the rapid expansion of the County population and the diversity of its demographics,” Robin said. “In its next phase the LSO needs to broaden its reach by expanding its programming and the formats it uses to attract people. We are actively working on both of these aspects. We want the citizens of Loudoun to know about and to be proud of the musical talent of their Symphony and their Youth Symphony."
The Loudoun Symphony Orchestra just held a 25th anniversary champagne dessert reception following the January 30 concert at the National Conference Center. The annual fundraising gala will focus on the 25th anniversary and will be held at the Middleburg Community Center on Apr. 9. Ticket information for all events can be found by visiting: loudounsymphony.org.