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From Tchaikovsky to Diamond, West Virginia Orchestra musicians string audiences along

April 18, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

Doing their best Roger Miller impersonation, 45 members of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra are Kings - and Queens - of the road, and will be rolling into the Apollo Civic Theatre Friday night.

For a spring string spectacular, "Serenade for Strings," the orchestra has strung together a program for Eastern Panhandle locals in Martinsburg, W.Va.

It is the second in a four-night string of dates across the state to perform a colorful pastiche of orchestral music for strings.

Apart from the benefits of hitting the road to perform for a wider audience, musicians said the event provides an opportunity to tour the state while honing the same piece over the course of several concerts.

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"It's nice to perform the same program more than once," says principal second violinist Kathy Langr. "When we get to do it more than once, we get to try different things, or something will strike you differently the third night than the first night."

Bouncing between Tchaikovsky and contemporary composer David Diamond, the program affords the musicians a long musical leap linked mainly by the reliance on string instruments.

WVO Executive Director Paul Helfrich said the choices by conductor laureate Thomas Conlin were made with an eye toward stirring the pot.

"It's really a lot of contrasting styles of music," he said. "You probably wouldn't often have an opportunity to hear this music on the same program."

While performing several works by a single artist provides insight into how a composer grows over time, Langr says it is just as interesting to see several styles blended.

Having previously performed Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings" and "The Toreador's Prayer" by Joaquin Turina, Langr can speak about the contrasts between the pieces. She says the tones shift dramatically between the two compositions.

"The strings have such a rich, warm, big sound. It just captures you from the beginning," Langr says of "Serenade."

In contrast, Turina's work has a distinctively Spanish feel, evoking an image of a bullfight. The trick for the orchestra is to convey the power and excitement of the music to the audience.

"I think it's the same kind of challenge you have with any piece," she says. "That's what we want as musicians, not just be together and in tune but strike a chord emotionally."

To explain the string appeal, Helfrich points to the long tradition of this group of instruments. While early woodwinds or brass instruments might sound drastically different from contemporary versions, orchestras have always been built around the string choir: Violin, viola, cello and bass.

"I think one of the reasons the string instruments have achieved such a place of prominence in the orchestra is they were the first instruments developed to play over the whole chromatic scale," he said. "The orchestra grew over time into what it is today, but one thing that was there from the beginning were the string instruments. They're really the foundation of the orchestra."

And tomorrow, local symphony fans can sit back and let the rush of sound from strings wash over them.

Musicians become just as excited about performing away from their Charleston, W.Va., home as audiences, according to Langr. For one thing, hitting the road allows for some sightseeing opportunities.

For another, performers and patrons alike benefit from being closer to the action in smaller theaters than musicians may be accustomed to playing.

"It's the same orchestra and the same great music," Langr says. "You can always get a CD of a piece, but when you have the opportunity to hear the orchestra live, it's an experience you can participate in more live rather than at home or on the radio."

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