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March 10, 2008

Excellence and Community Pride: Virginia's Williamsburg Symphonia

It continues to amaze (and please) me to see orchestras flourish in small communities, even with the presence of other orchestras not far away. It underlines the fact that communities want something of their own, something to point to with pride.

The Williamsburg Symphonia, in historic colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, is a perfect example. With two fairly large orchestras within a driving distance of 30 to 40 minutes -- the Richmond Symphony to the north and west, the Virginia Symphony to the south and east -- the Williamsburg Symphonia is carving out its own niche. It is a chamber orchestra that has grown to an artistically high level and become a vital part of the community during the past three and a half seasons under the leadership of Music Director Janna Hymes. In the past five years it has more than doubled -- and balanced -- its budget, which now stands at about $500,000 (for a city with a population of only 12,000, though a metropolitan area in excess of 150,000). It plays five pairs of concerts in a 400-seat hall, meaning a capacity of 800 for each pair, and they have 700 subscribers! That doesn't leave them a big burden for selling single tickets. They also do family concerts, holiday pops concerts, and serious educational services in the schools.

The concert I attended demonstrated why this orchestra has undergone such success during Hynes's tenure. It included a particularly crisp and incisive performance of Kodaly's Galánta Dances and a lovely performance of Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, for which the excellent soloist was David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The partnership between him, Hymes, and the orchestra was terrific - especially in the concerto's extremely poetic slow movement.

Williamsburg is, as many know, a lovely community with a rich historic heritage. And clearly the city is extremely proud to have its own orchestra. That it is succeeding and growing despite the competition (including a five-concert series in Williamsburg by the Virginia Symphony, which brings a chamber-sized orchestra) is one more piece of evidence that communities value and prize what they can call their own.

Posted by hfogel at March 10, 2008 1:53 PM

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