From the Music Director

From the Maestro: On the WSO’s 95th Anniversary

I’m writing this piece on June 30, 2024 — 95 years to the day since the Wheeling Symphony Society played its first concert at Oglebay Park, back in 1929. I have lived out a dream after taking up the baton of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra in 2019. As the WSO’s 95th-anniversary season approaches, I’ve been reflecting deeply on a remarkable feat: our city has been the home of a community-driven classical music institution for nine and a half decades. And as I write, I’m filled with gratitude to you, our community, for your support of the WSO’s mission.

Even before I moved to Wheeling, community members expressed to me the pride that the city takes in its orchestra. “What an incredible thing it is that we have a symphony in a town of this size” is a refrain that I continue to hear from so many. And the work of the WSO certainly is incredible: a rich part of the cultural fabric of Wheeling, it enhances the quality of life of communities near and far, and it also provides great economic impact to our region.

Every year, the WSO touches tens of thousands of people with our programs. We present free concerts annually, during our July 4th tour, both in Wheeling and in three other West Virginia cities that do not have an orchestra; on Labor Day, at Oglebay; and each spring at area schools across three states. We run a tuition-free youth orchestra, with both middle- and high-school-level ensembles, where the next generation of music lovers and performers can grow their musical talent. We regularly offer free or highly discounted tickets for students in order to cultivate an early love for classical music, regardless of a family’s income.

Overall, we impact through this work more than 24,000 people each year.

We consistently bring the highest level of national talent into our concert hall, beginning with the 75 members of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, who are among the best musicians in the country. Soloists who visit Wheeling to perform with the WSO are drawn from the elite levels of national talent, from Yo-Yo Ma to Sutton Foster. We feature new music by American composers as a core part of our mission.

And we are keeping alive the great 500-year tradition of classical music as one of only three professional orchestras in our state.

Community participation is key to our orchestra’s work, and our upcoming season is a testament to that belief. This year, we will begin a community choir in which residents of Wheeling and neighboring communities will be able to perform on the Capitol Theatre stage with the WSO. Members of our youth orchestra will play side-by-side with our professionals on the Capitol Series. Residents of Wheeling and professors at local universities will perform as soloists with the WSO and have been commissioned to write brand-new works for our orchestra.

We even have a fellowship for a local conductor in the initial stages of his professional career.

The WSO takes very seriously its role as a cultural leader in the city. We advocate for arts and culture with our elected officials as well as within the education system. Our “Festival of Ideas” series has crafted liberal-arts based conversations around major cultural topics in partnership with schools, religious institutions, libraries, and other community groups. Last season, we hosted the Violins of Hope project, featuring instruments played by Jews imprisoned during the Holocaust, bringing their stories into local schools and creating community discussion around them.

We are also the leading institution keeping classical music alive in the Ohio Valley. This art form has centuries of important history, and we want to make that history accessible to everyone living in our region. At the forefront of our mission is keeping that history relevant by funding and presenting new music by American composers.

We are a convener of our city at its largest gatherings. The July 4th concert was a perfect example, as thousands gathered at Heritage Port to celebrate our city and our country. Our annual Symphony on Ice gathers hundreds of area students, both choir members and skaters, who with the WSO bring holiday joy to thousands at the WesBanco Arena. Area civic and cultural institutions ask the musicians of the WSO to commemorate their most important occasions.

Creating that sense of belonging in the community is perhaps the most important calling of any artistic institution.

Also important to note is that the WSO generates a tremendous amount of economic impact for Wheeling. In its latest study (from 2022), Americans for the Arts reported that artistic funding from local, state and national governments totaled about $4 billion. Governments benefitted from $30 billion of tax revenue generated by that investment — a more than 7:1 return on investment. Overall, the arts create over $165 billion of economic impact nationally.

How does this happen? In addition to purchasing a ticket, the average audience member spends $27.79 within the city on the evening of an event. That number rises above $40 when the audience member visits from another community. The WSO is a huge driver of this type of spending.

For example, at our Harry Potter concert last season, we sold over 2,100 tickets — and more than half of that audience drove over 90 minutes to attend.

Those audience members stayed in area hotels, patronized our bars and restaurants, and spent money at the shops throughout our community.

This type of activity is what makes the Capitol Theatre and the WSO pillars of the revitalization that we want to see in Wheeling after the Streetscape is complete. I love the feeling of energy as I walk to the hall from my downtown home, seeing every bar and restaurant filled with people about to visit the Capitol Theatre on concert nights. It’s exciting to watch throngs of people navigating their way from parking lots and garages toward 10th and Main.

We want Wheeling to be a place where people love to live, work and play.

In addition to this spending-oriented version of economic impact, we also are a driver for recruiting top talent to Wheeling’s workforce. I regularly receive calls from people considering a work-related move to Wheeling for their families.

They ask about our orchestra, its concert offerings, and especially its educational programs for their children. We are a calling card of culture and access for Wheeling, and we proudly contribute to the quality of life here.

I’m writing to our city today to thank you for your past support. Without it, we could not have accomplished all that we have.

I also want to invite you to help us celebrate our 95th year. Here are three important pathways where you can join in our efforts.

Firstly, please buy season tickets. This is the single best way to support the WSO. A full-season package (seven concerts) starts at just $103. If you choose to purchase single tickets to concerts, that pricing starts at just $19 per concert.

Secondly, please donate.

The orchestra is able to thrive largely because of your generosity. As you can imagine, we deeply subsidize the cost of our tickets to allow our performances to be accessible to everyone in our community — so if you can, please give!

And, finally, if you run a business, please support in a bigger way. We have so many ways in which business leaders can help. Sponsorship is of course available, but could you also help with in-kind support? Some businesses donate vehicles to help with our transportation costs, others host a fund-raising party on our behalf, and yet others provide a venue or food for our events. If you have an idea, we want to hear it!

At this milestone in WSO history, I turn to you, our supportive community, to ask you to help us invest in great projects for Wheeling. My team and I would be most thankful. And with your help, Wheeling will be a better place to live as we continue together to move towards a century of orchestral music in the Friendly City.