If you’re anything like me, you’ve been itching for a fancy night out after months of canceled plans and living in sweatpants. So when the opportunity presented itself to attend the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s SoudBites series in November, I jumped at the chance to enjoy a nice evening out in Wheeling. While classical music isn’t something I typically have on my Spotify playlist (or ever, to be honest), I figured it was a chance to get out of my comfort zone and experience something new…the catered dinner and unique location was an added bonus!
So, come along with me as I recap my evening at the symphony, and learn how you can experience the magic for yourself just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Location, Location, Location
I was initially drawn to this event because of its location: The Scottish Rite. Originally constructed in 1907, this towering East Wheeling building has been kept private by its former caretakers, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Freemasons. The Scottish Rite is an impeccable piece of historic architecture with plenty of rooms to explore!
Upon arrival, my husband and I went to the library for a rapid COVID test, which was required for anyone attending the event. It only took around 15 minutes to receive our results, which was just enough time to check out the walls lined with books that hold tales of the freemasons of centuries past. Once we were cleared, we made our way into the marble rotunda that was recently restored by the building’s new owners, Roxby Development. We mingled and enjoyed a pre-show drink before making our way to the auditorium on the fifth floor.
Once we made our way up the stairs, we took our seats and marveled at the view. The auditorium is designed in an Egyptian revival style. It seemed that anywhere we looked we could point out sphinxes, pharaoh heads, and other ornate details that seem like we had been transported out of Wheeling to somewhere much more lavish.
While the Scottish Rite isn’t the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra’s home base – they made an excellent choice in choosing this venue to kick off their SoundBites series. The setting certainly set the tone for a special evening.
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So you’re probably wondering – what about the music?! As I previously mentioned, I’m far from a classical music aficionado, but I was thoroughly entertained and engaged throughout the performance. The concert began with a movement from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, followed by The Work at Hand, a composition of three symphonic songs by American Jake Heggie. The program concluded with Rossini’s Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville).
During The Work at Hand composition, we had the delight of listening to two-time Grammy Award-winning Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. Her voice was powerful, yet soft, and complemented the WSO’s principal cellist Elisa Kohnaki and the rest of the musicians beautifully.
Elisa Kohanski, principal cellist of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra enjoys a diverse career as soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral player, while championing unique artistic collaborations.
Two-time Grammy Award-winning Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is sought after by the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles for her versatile repertoire and commitment to new music.
What makes the symphony’s SoundBites series unique is the carefully-crafted dinner menu designed to complement the music. Chef Adam Luiso, executive chef of Roxby Development, worked closely with the WSO for months to create an event that engages all five senses. The meal was designed to be eaten clockwise around the place, pairing each bite with specific music moments to enhance the whole experience.
Maestro John Devlin explained at the start of the performance that a subtle change in lighting would be our queue to move on to the next bite. My husband and I enjoyed trying a few new-to-us foods and the full sensory experience that the WSO team sought to provide. You can check out the menu below:
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Maestro John Devlin introducing Chef Adam Luiso, executive chef of Roxby Development.
Wheeling’s Hidden Gem
As someone born and raised in the Ohio Valley, it’s sometimes too easy to overlook our area’s cultural amenities like the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that a night out at the symphony is an experience reserved for older, more distinguished folks – but I was sorely mistaken. Under the leadership of executive director Bryan Braunlich, Maestro John Devlin, and the rest of the team at the WSO, they’ve taken great care to make the symphony more accessible and welcoming to all.
At this particular event, we noticed a lively mix of people who were simply looking to have a good time. There were people dressed to the nines in suits and party dresses, and others wearing blue jeans and sweaters. I also took note of the sheer amount of people I didn’t recognize. As someone who works closely with several people in the community through my job, I have collected my fair share of loose acquaintances. However, this event truly brought in a crowd of people that was just familiar enough to feel comfortable but with several new faces that allowed me to blend in with the crowd and not feel the need to “network.”
Overall, I left feeling so grateful that a city of our size can support this caliber of talent. The WSO has been a part of Wheeling for more than 90 years, and with the energy and enthusiasm I experienced that night, I hope to see it continue for 90 more.
Up Next: SoundBites Returns for February “Love Notes”
Now that you learned a little bit more about my experience at the symphony, I hope you’ll consider attending an event and experiencing it for yourself.
The second concert of the WSO’s 2021-22 SoundBites series, titled “Love Notes,” is the perfect opportunity to treat you and your sweetheart to something new! The event will be held in Oglebay’s Glessner Ballroom on Sunday, February 13, with a brunch performance at 12:30 p.m. and a dinner performance at 4:30 p.m. The WSO will be conducted by Maestro John Devlin and perform a program of romantic and upbeat songs inspired by the Valentine holiday. Audience members will enjoy selections from Cole Porter and George Gershwin as well as pieces from the opera Carmen and the musical My Fair Lady. The music will be paired with an enticing Valentine’s Day meal prepared by Mirko Loeffler, executive chef of Oglebay Resort.
If you’d like to attend a more casual event, the WSO on the Go Yoga Series will begin on February 12 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Ballroom. This donation-based event merges an all-level yoga flow with classical music. The February installment of WSO on the Go Yoga will feature instructor Dr. Judy Romano with Tom Godfrey on classical guitar. The WSO on the GO Yoga Series will continue through June on the second Saturday of each month at the Scottish Rite Cathedral Ballroom.
Editors note: This is a sponsored article written on behalf of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. The opinions and text are the author’s own.
• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.