Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra celebrates golden anniversary
Fifty years ago, on Nov. 1, 1969, in the Greensburg Salem High School auditorium, the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra gave its first performance.
Founded by a group of area musicians and community leaders, the orchestra got its start with amateur musicians, growing each year in size and quality.
Branching out, the orchestra began ongoing community programming, from outdoor summer concerts to school performances, collaborations with the Laurel Ballet , Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the Westmoreland Library Network and more.
Depending on repertoire, a WSO performance can bring 55 to 85 musicians to the stage, all professionals, notes Daniel Meyer, artistic director.
“Everyone on stage is paid. Every seat is occupied by someone who has won a competitive audition,” he says.
Meyer, 46, of Pittsburgh, has been at the podium since 2011.
A former resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he was invited by Morrie Brand, then WSO executive director (and its current Academy of Music director) to conduct school time concerts for children in Westmoreland County.
“I was very happily surprised at the level of music making. I shouldn’t have been. I knew who was in the orchestra,” Meyer recalls.
Later asked to take on a leadership role within the orchestra, he agreed to become its artistic director.
Meyer has a personal connection, or two, with the orchestra.
Wife Mary Persin, vice president of artistic planning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, plays viola with the Greensburg orchestra to, Meyer says, “keep her chops.”
Her brother, Dennis Persin, serves as orchestra director at Gateway High School and is a WSO cellist.
Meyer takes great pride in those who take the stage, most often at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
“The pool from which we draw for the orchestra is so strong. … Our only limitation is the size of the stage,” he says.
Building on the past
Endicott Reindl, orchestra executive director, addresses the orchestra’s beginnings, and its future, with enthusiasm.
“It filled a void, it was a great community asset. It was a very humble, community orchestra. We still have a lot of strong, local talent. It’s brought a very high level of orchestral musicians into the area,” he says.
“When we put on a concert, it’s all about the connections. … Some people might have perceived barriers of what orchestral music is,” Reindl acknowledges.
“I always tell people if you come to a concert, you might have heard a snippet of something in a cartoon, or as background to a movie. … It’s an odd fact to think about, (but) more orchestral music is being written today than in the 1700s or 1800s — for video games, Broadway, movies,” he says.
A shining 50th season
A planning committee has put together a fall through spring celebration of the orchestra’s golden anniversary.
The celebration kicks off on Oct. 13, with pianist Maxim Lando , 15, who famously performed as pianist Lang Lang’s “left hand” following an injury, including with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra last year.
“We wanted to bring him back to Western Pennsylvania and let him shine on his own,” Meyer says.
The program will include Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” part of the orchestra’s first season repertoire, he says.
On Dec. 15, “Home for the Holidays” will celebrate the season with music conducted by Maria Sensi Sellner and featuring the 50-member All-Star Choir of Westmoreland County and guest soloists.
“Heart Strings” continues the celebration on Feb. 16, with violinist Chee-Yun. This classical performance will include the music of Bartók, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.
“Music & Magic” on March 16 brings Grammy-nominated cellist and conductor Amit Peled. Selections to be performed include those from composers Falla, Haydn and Schubert.
April 27 will bring “Carmina Burana” to the stage, with a large cast including the WSO Chamber Singers, Westmoreland Choral Society, the University of Pittsburgh choir, Seton Hill University Choir, children’s choirs and Pittsburgh Opera soloists.
“We wanted to choose a very dramatic piece and allow as many performers as we could from the community,” Meyer says.
The season will conclude with May 11’s “The Music of John Williams,” featuring soaring, instantly recognizable tunes, including movie scores from “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Superman,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Harry Potter.”
Details: 724-837-1850 or www.westmorelandsymphony.org
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.