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Guest conductor looks forward to Westmoreland Symphony program |

Guest conductor looks forward to Westmoreland Symphony program

Westmoreland Symphony
Andre Raphel

Andre Raphel sees his upcoming performance with the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra as part of the satisfying mission of directing regional ensembles.

“You are building a tradition with the audience,” the guest conductor for the March 19 concert says. “You are also providing a challenge by giving a lot of good musicians good music to play.”

Raphel, the music director of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, will direct the Westmoreland orchestra at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg. The concert also will feature Croatian guitarist Robert Belinic.

Besides his work in Wheeling, where he has been conductor for 13 years, Raphel is a busy guest conductor in the United States and Europe. He lives in Philadelphia, which he says provides him a good base for work in the Northeast and across the Atlantic.

Raphel, 53, was born in North Carolina and has been studying music since he was 11. He received his bachelor’s at the University of Miami, his master’s at Yale University and did studies on conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

He served as assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic, St. Louis Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra.

But he seems most enthusiastic about his work in Wheeling and with orchestras such as the Westmore-land, with which he can “build appreciation for music in a smaller setting.”

He says he has a great deal of respect for the work of Daniel Meyer, music director of the Westmoreland orchestra and those in Erie and Asheville, N.C.

Raphel served as Meyer’s guest with the Asheville symphony, and Meyer was Raphel’s guest conductor in Wheeling.

Raphel has taken an energetic approach to his work in Wheeling. Along with the orchestra in Springfield, Mass., the Wheeling ensemble co-commissioned a piano concerto by Kenneth Fuchs.

The concerto was written for Jeffrey Biegel, a pianist who soloed with the West-moreland orchestra in 2000.

The concert in May featuring the new work also is part of a week-long French Festival, which will feature the orchestra playing works it never has performed before, Raphel says.

“We have great musicians in the Wheeling-Pittsburgh area,” Raphel says. “They have great talent, but they want to be challenged.”

His enthusiasm for programming also shows up as he talks about the Westmoreland concert. He says it was “jointly programmed” by him and Meyer.

When Meyer approached him, he says, Belinic had been signed to perform “Concierto de Aranjuez,” the famous guitar piece by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-99).

Meyer then wondered if Raphel would be interested in doing Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphony No. 8. Raphel says he was delighted at doing that work, a piece he says is “greatly underappreciated” because of its unfortunate position between symphonies No. 7 and 9, two masterpieces.

“But it is core Beethoven,” he says. “So that meant all we needed was an opener.”

His choice was Ottorino Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3,” which was first performed in 1932. It seemed like a work that would fit well in the half of the program with the Rodrigo concerto, which dates to 1939, he says.

“It was written about the same time and it has the same kind of great lyricism,” Raphel says.

Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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