Loudoun County has a full symphonic orchestra. Loudoun County has had a full symphonic orchestra for the past 16 years. Both these statements probably raise a lot of eyebrows as the Loudoun County Symphony Orchestra is one of the best undiscovered secrets of the entire county. The orchestra is high quality, made up of local musicians and low in cost and yet many residents are unaware of its existence. Luckily the orchestra’s season is in full swing with its next concert, "Timeless Journey," coming up March 8 and 9.
"The orchestra has three goals really," said Michael Rohrer the Loudoun County Orchestra Association’s executive director and principle bass player. "We want to present classical music, we want to provide educational options for classical music and since we’re in Loudoun we want to offer musicians out here a chance to perform."
As part of these goals, this season the orchestra has been trying to expand its audience not only in terms of number but also with the type of audience it attracts. To do this the orchestra has been offering more family-friendly concerts, like it’s season opener on Halloween where children could dress up in costume and allowing all patrons ages 18 and under in for free. This past weekend the orchestra also performed a free family show with the organization's younger counterpart the Loudoun Youth Orchestra.
"One of the main goals this year is to get more people to hear the group, to share our music and the quality of it with the community. We want to get the word out," said David Hughs, the vice president of the Loudoun Orchestra Association and principal clarinet in the orchestra. "We’ve been attempting to reach out with music that has more of a theme and we’ve realized that some things you don’t think have a theme do and it ties together very well with other pieces."
An example of this is the upcoming "Timeless Journey" performance in which the orchestra will be performing three pieces that are about great journeys. The first is Smetana’s famous symphonic poem, "The Moldau," which describes traveling down a river in eastern Europe. This will be followed by a newer piece by James Beckel titled "The Glass Bead Game," a concerto for French horn based on the Hermann Hesse novel of the same title. The concert will end with Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6, op. 74, also known as the "Pathetique."
Many of the musicians are especially looking forward to the Tchaikovsky piece including the orchestra’s director for the past 10 years, maestro Mark Allen McCoy. "It’s an incredibly powerful piece and to be able to do a major work like that with this orchestra and to be able to exert the emotions and what the piece is all about will be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it," he said.
THE ORCHESTRA was founded in 1991 by a group of residents who believed the quickly growing county needed a place for musicians to play and for audiences to hear classical music. It has continued to grow from there spawning the youth orchestra, a string workshop for musicians of all talents, an instrument petting zoo and a quartet that travels to local schools to educate students on music. Over the years the orchestra has grown in both size and quality.
"That’s the surprising thing," said Don O’Brien, a fan of the orchestra for the past three years and an avid fan of classical music, "For a regional orchestra they are remarkably good. For me they are as good as the National Symphony Orchestra. Some of their concerts will knock you over they are so wonderful. They are just consistently good."
"From a quality standpoint the orchestra gets better and better year after year," said McCoy, "The quality of players and musicians that is coming to play with the symphony gets higher and higher and higher. We’re always going forward."
Not only is the symphony of a high quality but because it is mostly comprised of volunteers and is a local group of musicians it is also more accessible then a fully professional orchestra both in price and in access. McCoy will sometimes speak to the audience before or during the show, filling them in on the meaning of pieces and their history while the orchestra’s community outreach programs allow for easier access to the world of the symphony.
"We do an hour-long program out in the schools where we demonstrate music, the youth orchestra is a great way to reach out to younger musicians and the string workshop is a small ensemble that anyone who has a violin can join. We really want to reach out to the community and be able to educate people about music," said Rohrer.
The youth orchestra has especially taken off since its founding five years ago. Not only is it a way for younger musicians to gain experience but it is also one of the few places they can do so outside of school.
"The youth orchestra has really grown by leaps and bounds, there is obviously a need for a youth orchestra in this county," said McCoy, "It will be a very short amount of time before we actually establish another youth orchestra. We want to grow the group into a very fine quality youth orchestra that provides an outlet for the kids in the county you want to really strive to play great music."
PLAYING GREAT MUSIC isn’t always the easiest thing. The orchestra has had some troubles raising awareness of its existence, mostly because of a lack of a central performing arts center. Because of this lack, the only places the orchestra can perform are in high-school auditoriums, which are difficult to schedule and not always built for classical music.
"As good as the high-school facilities are, we are seriously hampered by them because they are for the high schools first, meaning there is no central location where people know they can hear us perform," said Hughs.
A full concert hall in Loudoun would not simply be for the orchestra. Other groups like the Loudoun Ballet need a consistent performing space too that a concert hall would allow for. Hughs points out though that a concert hall costs money and usually private donors are the ones to really get the ball moving so until one comes along it will be hard for one to be built.
Of course the orchestra also has its own set of donors, including this season’s sponsor The Sheila C. Johnson Foundation, that help it function and support its educational programs.
"We have a core of active community supporters that send a contribution every year. We have some businesses that contribute to us and a couple of foundations that contribute along with some money from the state," said Rohrer.
THE ORCHESTRA is mostly looking to teach people the joys of classical music and the power a full orchestral performance can hold. Whether this is through education or performance they hope to expand the popularity not just of the orchestra but of classical music itself.
"Every performance is different. It’s an emotional and incredible thing to be able to do," said Rohrer. "That’s the reason it’s so important for people to be familiar with this kind of music. The music we hear now doesn’t have that level of design that classical does. It doesn’t have the same level of intellectual investment that there is in the classical day.