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OVS Gets Hip In Its 20’s

OVS Gets Hip In Its 20’s
By Thomas Consolo

Like most twenty-somethings, the Ohio Valley Symphony is offering a combination of hip style and traditional flair for its next season.

The 2011-12 series marks the OVS’s 22nd season as southeast Ohio’s only professional¬† orchestra. The five programs cover repertoire ranging from R&B to classical mainstays to holiday favorites. They also feature a lineup of world-class guest artists, including the world’s first electric harpist and a father-son team of trumpet virtuosos.

That variety is key both to the OVS’s mission and its two decades of success, said Lora Lynn Snow, the orchestra’s founder and executive director. “Great music comes in all kinds of packages,” she said, “and we try to show people all the things an orchestra can do. It’s a lot more than just symphonies.”

That will be clear enough to the audience from the first program, dubbed “Hip Harp” for soloist Deborah Henson-Conant. The Grammy-nominated performer, composer and songwriter has built a renegade image on her evocative singing voice and the 36-string, custom-built electric harness harp she plays. Her programs fuse theater, stories and virtuosic playing skill and cover genres from ballads to jazz to flamenco.

For Ray Fowler, the OVS music director, Henson-Conant was an obvious choice. “This is a person who will reach right into the heart and soul of the audience,” he said. “She’s just so natural on stage.”

It’s more than showmanship, he continued. “I was so impressed with how thoughtful she was about her choice of pieces,” Fowler said. “She wanted to choose just the right repertoire to reach our audience.”

Henson-Conant’s performance opens the OVS season on Oct. 8 in Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School’s Wedge Auditorium. It’s the third year the orchestra has performed in Point Pleasant, including a concert to help dedicate the facility’s completion. “We can’t expect everyone to come to us,” Snow said, “so we’re happy to go to them to let them know about this organization.”

The season’s other four performances will be at the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre. The downtown Gallipolis landmark has been reborn thanks to a dedicated citizen-based restoration effort sparked by Snow. It was renamed to honor a gift by Meigs County native Ann Carson Dater, who wanted to ensure that the hall be a permanent home for the orchestra.

The season’s other bookend shows a different kind of virtuosity in violinist Chin Kim. “He’ll reach the audience in a different way,” Fowler said, “and the story will be through the sounds.”

Kim will play Max Bruch’s first violin concerto on April 28, 2012, as part of a program called “The Romantics.” The contrast between the two artists “is the extreme of the season,” Fowler said. It shows just how different music can be, all while touching people deeply.

“The Romantics” also features one of the best-loved orchestral masterpieces of the 19th century, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. It traces a hopeful journey against fate to a joyous finale.

November brings pianist Lori Sims back to the stage of the Ariel to perform the second concerto of Johannes Brahms. Sims is “one of the best-kept secrets of the piano world,” according to Fowler. “Her playing has such integrity and such heart. She’ll bring the audience through the piece.”

The Nov. 5 concert pairs the Brahms with the youthful Symphony No. 2 of Ludwig van Beethoven. For audiences who automatically equate Beethoven with forceful Romanticism, the second symphony is an eye opener full of wry humor and the kind of balance his teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn, would have approved.