Maestro André Raphel Brings New Music to Life

By Matt Jackfert

West Virginia Public Radio and



The original audio interview can be heard here.


Matt Jackfert (MJ): “You’re listening to Classical Music here on West Virginia Public Radio. I’m joined here by Maestro André Raphel of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra who has an upcoming concert on Friday, November 7 at 8 PM at Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre featuring Spanish and American music. Maestro Raphel says the Wheeling Symphony has been pretty busy lately.”

Maestro André Raphel (MAR): “It’s a big week for the orchestra, this upcoming program of Spanish and American music, and it will be especially nice to have Roberto Sierra in Wheeling for a composer residency.”


MJ: “Raphel finds it important to get audiences acquainted with new composers and their music.”

MAR: “We’re always trying to bring new compositional voices to the community.”


MJ: “He wants audiences to be engaged by the composers well before any note has been played.”

MAR: “I find that when the people in a community have a chance to really hear the composer’s thoughts and explore the music a bit before the concert, it breaks down a barrier. It helps people receive this music and understand it, and it’s important in the life of an artistic organization in a very different way and ultimately, that’s what’s so important about a composer residency.”


MJ: “So, what sort of residencies have they done exactly?”

MAR: “Over the years we’ve tried to structure in several residencies for composers. We’ve have Jennifer Higdon in the past, and Richard Danielpour in the past.”


MJ: “Okay, so that’s a pretty good track record, and they’ll continue it with Roberto Sierra, Puerto Rican composer who studied with György Ligeti. You know, that metronome guy? Sierra’s music, however, is often influenced by the music of his native country and Latin America.”

MAR: “Well, Roberto is one of our most important composers and, of course, he is on the faculty at Cornell University, and during his residency, he will have many opportunities to interact with folks in the community. Roberto will be giving a master class to composition students at West Virginia University. He’ll be participating in a panel discussion at Wheeling Jesuit University, and also, Roberto, myself, and the soloist, Michael Ludwig, will give a panel discussion as part of the Ohio County Public Library’s Lunch with Books.”


MJ: “Maestro Raphel really believes in new music, and really enjoys performing it. Like a lot. And, it was one of the reasons he got into conducting in the first place.”

MAR: “I started to conduct all the student composers’ pieces. I had always been fascinated with the sort of communicative quality of conducting. There was this great series of broadcasts back in the 1970s that the Pittsburgh Symphony had called Previn and the Pittsburgh, and I’ll never forget as a high school student, I used to watch those broadcasts. More than anything else, I think I was taken by this ability to communicate the intentions of the composer that was so much a part of conducting, and this sort of duty to then relay that to the audience.”

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MJ: “So this all fits in with this upcoming concert where the Wheeling Symphony will be performing a good bit of new music, while staying away from more traditional composers who other symphonies often rely on.”

MAR: “Often during the course of a subscription season we hear a lot of what we like to call the meat and potatoes of Beethoven and Brahms and Mozart. So this was a program that we thought it might be nice to try something a little bit different.”


MJ: “Different, indeed but still relatable as you’ll hear with Roberto Sierra’s fandango.”

MAR: “Roberto describes it as sort of a super fandango as a take off of this great Spanish dance.”


MJ: “Another major Latin American composer on this concert is Astor Piazzolla, who you might know for his Libra Tango. They’ll be performing his, Tres Movimientos Tanguisticos Porteños and his Oblivion. I asked Maestro Raphel about the challenges facing the Oblivion.”

MAR: “I find that simplicity is a great part of his music, so understanding that if you play basically what he has on the page, and only embellish in some places slightly, then it gives the music this color that he wanted. But it is really about going after a certain color and a certain sound, and I think that’s one of the great things about Oblivion, is that in essence it’s such a simple melody and simple theme, this main theme that he uses. That’s the challenge in this music, is to find the color of the sound.”


MJ: “Also joining the performance will be Michael Ludwig, playing the part of violin concerto. Maestro Raphel has high regard for him.”

MAR: “He has a real gift as a soloist.”

Michael Ludwig


MJ: “He would know because they’ve worked together for a long time.”

MAR: “As associate concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra and my tenure as assistant conductor Philadelphia Orchestra, we worked together for many concerts.”


MJ: “The concerto they are performing is one of the most lyrical pieces in the repertoire.”

MAR: “This concerto is almost from another world in terms of its lyricism and its virtuosity in the last movement.”


MJ: “Raphel also says the Wheeling Symphony is doing a lot of community outreach these days.”

MAR: “In some cases, especially in West Virginia, we’re going into regions where the students have never heard an orchestra before.”


MJ: “They also have a college series.”

MAR: “This college series provides tickets for four select concerts to students at eleven colleges and universities for free.”


MJ: “Now I’ll have to admit, I have a particular interest in one of their upcoming concerts. As a huge Looney Tunes fan, I want to go see their Bugs Bunny concert in 2015.”

MAR: “This is a very interesting program that will be conducted by George Dougherty who has been very active for many years in putting together the Bugs Bunny cartoons with a live orchestra. Helping people understand that they know a lot more classical music than they may think.”


MJ: “Maestro André Raphel of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, a conductor of orchestras both home and abroad. Thank you for being on the show today.”

MAR: “My pleasure.”


MJ: “Don’t forget their concert is on Friday, November 7, at 8 PM at Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre. They will be playing a concert of Spanish and American Music.”

(Transcribed for  by Caitlyn Johnson)

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