Press Room

Congratulations Western Piedmont Symphony &

Maestro John Gordon Ross

First Place Winner – Professional Orchestra Division
The American Prize National Competition
And congratulations Maestro Ross!   Celebrating his 25th season with the Western Piedmont Symphony.  Thanks John!



Western Piedmont Symphony Masterworks Concert I


“On the Road Again”

October 3, 2015

By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory, NC


The Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro John Gordon Ross, began its second half-century with a concert featuring works reminiscent of various lands in P. E. Monroe Auditorium of Lenoir-Rhyne University. The orchestra also welcomed the Tesla Quartet, Michelle Lie and Ross Snyder, violins, Edwin Kaplan, viola, and Serafim Smigelskiy, cello, as its new String Quartet in Residence.

The program opened with Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). This is a fantasy for orchestra inspired by a trip Tchaikovsky took to Rome and where he saw the Carnival in progress and used Italian folk and street songs as themes for this piece. Although Tchaikovsky later expressed doubts about its musical substance, it has been a popular work. It does place great demands on all of the sections of the orchestra: the brass, percussion, woodwinds, and strings, which all played with great energy and verve.

Continuing the travel theme, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) Songs of Travel was then performed, featuring Adrian Smith, Bass-Baritone. This is a group of ten songs taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems of the same name. Originally written for voice and piano, they were later orchestrated by Vaughan Williams and one of his students, Roy O. Douglas.

Mr. Smith is a native of Hickory, NC, and holds degrees form Lenoir-Rhine University and Boston University. He has had extensive opera and concert experience. He has a full and rich voice, and sang Vaughan Williams’ songs with great beauty and feeling.

Although William G. Harbinson (born 1953), who composed Of Fire and Ice, says that the composition has no programmatic theme, the music certainly could be interpreted as alluding to a place such as Iceland. Dr. Harbinson has been on the music faculty of Appalachian State University for many years, also serving as dean of the School of Music for a number of years. The piece opens with a fiery section, has a slower and more tonal middle section, and returns to great bombast for the finale, incorporating many jazz elements throughout. It reminded me of a film score, to which Dr. Harbinson replied that it had done its job of expressing drama and emotion. The great demands placed on the brass, percussion, and woodwinds were met with ease and aplomb.

The program finale takes us to Spain for Capriccio Espagnol by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908). Rimsky had often visited Spain as a Russia Naval officer, and used a number of Spanish themes for this caprice. It seems that this piece has a solo for just about everybody, and all of the soloists played their parts with great expertise and beauty. Lest I miss someone, I will forgo naming them individually, but there were wonderful sounds coming from all directions. There are some lush string sections to the piece, and the strings played with great depth and cohesion. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion, also got a great workout, and their supreme efforts paid off splendidly, for an exciting close to the start of a great season. There are still many more concerts to come in this, the Western Piedmont Symphony’s fifty-first season. Don’t miss a one.



From: John McDaniel <> Date: Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 11:47 AM Subject: Saturday’s WPS triumph To:

Saturday’s performance in the LRU P.E. Monroe Auditorium of the Mahler 2nd “Resurrection” Symphony by the Western Piedmont Symphony and Hickory Choral Society was a stunning achievement.


Over the past 28 years I’ve frequently made the trip from Northern Virginia to Hickory to take in a concert by one or the other or both, and have rarely been disappointed. But I have never been as thrilled or moved by another performance of this or any other piece of music as I was Saturday night.


Since my father introduced me to Mahler’s 2nd in the late 1960s, I’ve probably listened to the symphony more than 100 times on vinyl, tape, and disc. Twice before I’d experienced it live: a muscular performance by the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall under the baton of Sir Georg Solti, and an ethereal interpretation by Leonard Bernstein who, near the end of his celebrated career, directed the Vienna Philharmonic in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall while I was in graduate school in Washington.


Both of those performances were memorable, but neither had the passion, the energy, the emotional impact of what John Gordon Ross achieved with his fine and enormous ensemble Saturday night. The accomplished WPS–supplemented by many additional excellent musicians for this expansive work–was sharp on the attack and viscerally powerful when required, but also capable of a breathtaking light and tender touch. Thanks in large part, I’m sure, to maestro Ross’ preparation and control, the orchestra proved itself up to the challenge of both the full and the delicate intensity required to do justice to Mahler’s alternately dense and open scoring. Especially notable were quiet passages immediately following numbing crescendos. A few of those made what little hair I have left on the top of my head stand straight up.


P.E. Monroe Auditorium itself was a star contributor, at least to this listener. I was concerned that my Row G seat would put me too far forward to fully appreciate the best blended sound. But whether it was the excellent reflective panels on stage, or just the open nature of the scoring of much of the symphony, the sound that reached my ears was clear and glorious.


The soloists, soprano Louise Toppin and contralto Diane Thornton, also were excellent, both weaving their strong voices into the rich musical tapestry in a way that was clear without standing too far apart from the whole. Thornton in particular, I thought, did an amazing job from her first entry of projecting her voice even as she held back the decibels. I’ve heard too many divas (or recording engineers?) fail to achieve this restraint.


The solution to the problem of where to place the Hickory Choral Society, when the stage was already overcrowded, was itself masterful. Initially singing the quiet “Auferstehung” from their seats in the front-right section of the auditorium, the singers then rose and turned to face the rest of the audience as their contribution to the building power of the final movement intensified. To me, this had an even more powerful impact than had they been sitting on risers behind the orchestra throughout the performance. The effect was similarly involving of the audience as is the Personent Hodie with which the HCS traditionally opens its Christmas Concert. The HCS had been prepared for their important, if few, minutes of action Saturday night to the typical high standard that has come to be expected of them and their director, Don Coleman, who I’ve known since he directed me in chorus and Varsity Singers at Hickory High School in 1971/72, still, along with the regrettably few years (1985-87) I was in the HCS, among the happiest memories of my life.


I can’t complete this enthusiastic review without adding how much I wish my father, Dr, Michael C. D. McDaniel, had lived long enough to experience what those of us who were there experienced Saturday night. He loved LR, the Hickory community, the WPS, the HCS, and Mahler more than anyone else I know (with the possible exception, in the case of Mahler, of Bruno Walter). For a time, he offered talks in front of the fireplace in the Cromer Center before WPS concerts, discussing with scholarship and humor what was both well and little known about the composers and their works being performed that evening. He would have been as thrilled as I was, and offered many more calls of “bravo” than I had the energy to offer after such a fulfilling, yet emotionally and physically draining, experience. I did have the great pleasure of sharing it with my mother, Marjorie, who purchased my ticket and without whom I wouldn’t even have known about the event.


A final word of thanks needs to be given to the sponsors and to the board members, such as my friend Bill Karslake, who worked so hard to make sure Hickory could be the site of such a once-in-a-lifetime event. Thanks to you all!


Looking forward to many more uplifting concerts,


John R. M. McDaniel


Western Piedmont Symphony Chamber Classics IV

March 14, 2015

The Kaia String Quartet

By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory, NC


The Western Piedmont Symphony welcomed the returning Kaia String Quartet to the auditorium of the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center for its fourth Chamber Classics concert of the season. This is the third, of four, chamber concerts in which a visiting string quartet serves a two-week residency in Hickory with the hope of being chosen as the Resident String Quartet of the orchestra for the next three years.


The Kaia String Quartet, Victoria Moreira and Naomi Culp, violins, Sixto Franco, viola, and Hope Shepherd, cello, is based in Chicago, and has been the Ensemble in Residence of the Latin Music Festival of Chicago since 2012. Its focus has been of exploring the music of both contemporary and traditional Latin American composers.


Presented in tonight’s program was a wide variety of music, featuring works from the entire spectrum of the quartet repertoire, and opening with Franz Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) String Quartet in E-flat, Op. 33 (“The Joke”). It was Haydn who established, solidified, and refined the string quartet and chamber music with sixty-eight works over a period of four decades. This particular quartet was part of a group he dedicated to Grand Duke Paul of Russia. Haydn liked harmless jokes, and incorporated some humorous elements in the piece, including false starts and endings, tempo changes, and the like, all of which brought a chuckle to this audience.


The Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), is considered a national treasure in his homeland. He is probably best known for his piano concerto and the Peer Gynt music. He wrote only one complete string quartet, and it is considered a bridge between Beethoven’s quartets and those of Debussy and Bartok. The entire quartet is based on one theme, which Grieg took from a song he had written called “Fiddler.” There is a thickness of sound in this quartet, verging on that of an orchestra.  In fact, his original publisher refused to publish this work because of the fear that so many simultaneous double stops would require the work to be rewritten as a piano quartet or sting quintet. The members of the Kaia Quartet, however, had no problem in bringing forth the grand sound and playing all of the double stops as written, for an exceptionally fine and pleasing performance.


Following intermission, the audience was treated to “Three Pieces for String Quartet” by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). This is a group of three very short works: “Danse,” which is a delightful, if very dissonant, dance, “Excentrique,” inspired by a music-hall clown, and is very true-to-life, and “Cantique,” a solemn, almost sad, song.


The last work on the program was the one of the cornerstones of the repertoire, the String Quartet in g minor, Op. 10, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Debussy was likened to the impressionist painters of his time, although he did not like being called an impressionist composer. The quartet is sensual and impressionistic, and breaks the rules of classic harmony, pointing the way ahead to new ideas in musical composition. The Kaia String Quartet shone in this performance, especially the second movement, which is very rhythmical. It almost had a Latin flavor, which brought to it a great deal of life.


While the entire performance was played with perfection, it was the encore where the quartet felt most at home, playing Argentinian composer Carlos Gardels’s (1890-1935) “Por una cabeza,” a tango made famous in many motion pictures, including Schindler’s List and True Lies. The opening cadenza for this performance was written and played by violinist Victoria Moreira, and was much more exciting and interesting than other performances of this that I have listened to.


In all, the Kaia String Quartet performed splendidly in a big and difficult program, producing a very pleased and satisfied audience.



February 14, 2015

“Love and Death”

By W. Gerald Cochran

Hickory, NC

The Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra celebrated Valentine’s Day with the Third Masterworks Concert of their 50th season with a concert mostly about love, but with some death added, more as an afterthought in keeping with the stories of the works presented. Featured guest artists were the Kontras String Quartet, which had been the resident string quartet for the past four seasons.

Opening the program was the lively Overture to the opera Cosi fan tutte, K. 588, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Roughly translated, the title means “Women are like that.” The opera is a story about two men who see if they can get their fiancées to be unfaithful, and which ends happily with a double wedding.

Next on the program was Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) Suite #2 from the Ballet Romeo and Juliet. Of course, this is the story of star-crossed lovers from warring families, who pay the ultimate sacrifice for their love.

Next followed Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner (1833-1883). Wagner composed this piece as a birthday present to his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried. It was first performed on Christmas morning, December 25, 1870, by a small ensemble on the stairs of their villa in Switzerland. Cosima awoke to its opening melody. Originally written for string quartet, woodwinds, and brass, Wagner had intended to keep this piece private, but later published it due to financial pressures. It is now usually performed with a full chamber orchestra. Tonight’s performance was actually a combination of both, with gorgeous playing by the members of the Kontras Quartet as soloists.

The final work on the program was Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). Partnered with choreographer Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, this is the 20th century adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with basically the same story, only updated to occur in New York, with warring gangs, and death for the protagonist, Tony, although Maria lives.

All four of these pieces gave the entire orchestra a workout. The scores called for multiple string, woodwind, brass, and percussion solos throughout. The solos of the principal flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon were especially notable, and there were many of each. The string sections tonight were tight, nuanced, and lush. They negotiated the many difficult passages with ease and aplomb. Altogether, what was heard all evening were glorious sounds, thanks to the extraordinary talents of each of the orchestra’s members. The next concert, on March 28, 2015, should be just as spectacular.




October 15, 2014


Paulette Miller

(828) 324-8603


 Masterworks II – A Blast from the Past!

The 50th year celebration continues on Saturday, November 1 with a “Blast from the Past!”  The Western Piedmont Symphony presents Masterworks II, under the direction of Maestro John Gordon Ross. The award winning Western Piedmont Symphony is extremely pleased to welcome back its second Music Director & Conductor—Martin Bellar.  Sponsored by Alex Lee, Inc. the concert begins at 7:30 pm at P.E. Monroe Auditorium on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University. Violinist, Kevin Lawrence, sponsored by UNC School of the Arts, will be the featured guest artist.  The orchestra will perform selections from Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Hausson, Saint-Saens and Brahms.

Tickets are $17-$37, available through, or email at, or call Symphony box office at 828.324.8603 from 10am-3pm M-F. Additional information can be found at

The Western Piedmont Symphony is a grant recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County. Business offices are located on the SALT Block at 243 Third Avenue NE, Hickory.  Business hours are 9:00 am until 4:00 pm Monday-Friday.


For Immediate Release

 Paulette Miller, Marketing Director

Western Piedmont Symphony


Western Piedmont Symphony Receives Grant from

Corning Incorporated Foundation for In-School Concerts

The Western Piedmont Symphony is pleased to announce the receipt of a two year grant from Corning Incorporated Foundation.  This grant will support the educational outreach program by the Western Piedmont Chamber Orchestra and by the participants in our Hickory Metro String Quartet Residency Program.

These funds will support two educational concerts by the Western Piedmont Chamber Orchestra in Alexander and Caldwell County schools targeting grades 4 and 5.   Traditionally these concerts have been funded directly by the local school systems.  These concerts have been suspended due to budget constraints for several years. For all too many of these students, this is their only exposure to live classical music and to a live orchestra.

This grant would also augment the number of string quartet outreach concerts which are traditionally offered and targeted to grade 2 students.   Support from Corning Incorporated Foundation will also allow the Symphony to expand its music education/outreach programs to additional schools in the Hickory Metro area.

This project relates to three of the five focus areas of the Foundation.  First, the project is educational in nature as each of our concerts is interactive and addresses goals that relate to overall school curriculum including subject areas beyond music education such as history, mathematics, language arts, physical education, and visual arts.   Second, the program focuses on cultural programming representing a broad spectrum of classical music styles, integrating pop music and jazz into many of the programs as well.  A special effort is made in our programs to be ethnically and geographically diverse.   Thirdly, this project specifically addresses community by allowing us to once again provide a reasonable level of programming to all of our four-county marketing areas and insuring that every student is exposed to both chamber and orchestral music by our outstanding regional musicians on at least two occasions.

Western Piedmont Symphony is a grant recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County.  Business offices are located on the SALT Block at 243 Third Avenue NE, Hickory.  Business hours are 9:00 am until 4:00 pm daily.  Contact the Business Office at (828) 324-8603 for concert box office schedule or for more information.  Visit the Symphony’s website at





September 10, 2014

CONTACT: Paulette Miller (828) 324-8603

Grammy Award Winner Béla Fleck to Open Symphony’s 50th Season

Under the direction of Maestro John Gordon Ross, the award winning Western Piedmont Symphony will be celebrating their 50th year of beautiful music.  World renowned banjo master, Béla Fleck, will start this momentous season off in grand style with his banjo concerto “The Impostor.”  Fleck has received 15 Grammy awards for his banjo performances and has had over 30 Grammy nominations.

Masterworks I “Banjo Constellation” will be held at J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir, beginning at 7:30 pm on Friday, September 26.  Tickets are $22-$42, available through, or email at, or call Symphony box office at 828.324.8603 from 10am-4pm M-F. Additional information can be found at

WPS is also pleased to premiere a new composition by our own WPS violinist and composer, Luke Benton, entitled “Terminal Star.”  Make plans to join the Symphony as we celebrate our 50th season.

This concert was made possible through the support of Broyhill Family Foundation, Alex & Anne Bernhardt, Greer Labs, and Friends of Bela Fleck.

The Western Piedmont Symphony is a grant recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County. Business offices are located on the SALT Block at 243 Third Avenue NE, Hickory.  Business hours are 9:00 am until 4:00 pm Monday-Friday.



September 15, 2014

CONTACT: Paulette Miller (828) 324-8603

“Fall Pops” Symphony Under the Sails

 Celebrating 50 years of wonderful music, make plans to join the Western Piedmont Symphony chamber orchestra for another FREE musical extravaganza on the square in downtown Hickory Under the Sails. The concert will be held on Sunday, September 28 from 5-7 pm.  Rain/Weather location will be the SALT Block Auditorium located at the Arts & Science Center.  Enjoy show tunes, TV and movie themes, and many of your classical favorites.  Invite your family and friends and spend a beautiful fall day listening to beautiful music.  Bring a lawn chair, pack your own picnic or visit one of the downtown restaurants. This free concert is sponsored by the City of Hickory, Hickory Metro Conventions & Visitors Bureau, Frye Regional Medical Center, HSM Solutions, and CenturyLink. And in partnership with Jackson Group Interactive, WPS will live-stream this concert performance too!

Western Piedmont Symphony is a grant recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council and a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County. Business offices are located on the SALT Block at 243 Third Avenue NE, Hickory.  Box office hours are 10:00 am until 4:00 pm daily.  Visit the Symphony’s website at or contact them at 828.324.8603 or



September 11, 2014

CONTACT: Paulette Miller (828) 324-8603

Western Piedmont Symphony to Premiere “Terminal Star”

Composed by WPS Musician Luke Benton

The Western Piedmont Symphony is extremely pleased to premiere a new work, “Terminal Star,” by one of our own–Luke Benton.  Benton is a composer, educator, and violinist who calls Western North Carolina home.

Graduating from Hickory High School in 1997, he shared dual roles as the concertmaster of the Western Piedmont Youth Symphony and as a fully contracted member of the professional orchestra. Holding multiple degrees in music composition, Benton’s music has been commissioned and performed by the Western Piedmont Symphony, the Lenoir-Rhyne University Wind Ensemble and Concert Band, the Hickory High School Orchestra, the Charlotte (NC) Children’s Choir and Youth Chorale, the New Mexico State University Percussion Ensemble and the Vienna Saxophone Quartet, to name a few. His music has been praised as “strong-minded and lovely” by the Indianapolis Star, “wonderfully elegiac and elegant” by the Hartford Courant, and “artfully envisioned” by the Edinburgh Evening News.

In addition to composing and performing with the WPS, Benton also began his professional teaching career at Lenoir-Rhyne University where he teaches classes in music theory, composition, First Year Experience, and film music/aesthetics courses.

In describing his latest composition, Benton explains,

“In recent years my compositional process has become more stimulated by words instead of notes. What I mean to say is, titles tend to come before melodies. In considering a commission of a new work celebrating the Western Piedmont Symphony’s golden anniversary, I immediately began thinking of words to illustrate this organization’s impact on our community for the past 50 years. “Star”came quite quickly, as I’ve always considered orchestras to be this beacon of life and beauty shining resplendent amongst the sometimes-ugly backdrop of our modern world. And once I had “Star,” I couldn’t help but remember the wonder and awe I felt as a child staring up into the night sky, pondering the mysteries of God’s creation. It’s similar to the amazement I’ve witnessed children exhibit when they encounter a tuba for the first time (because bigger is always better in the orchestra).

Although “Terminal Star”is (admittedly) an odd pairing of words, the first came quite organically after the second, especially as I began to envision the piece as a musical journey through the heavens:

I imagine a child trying to catalogue each and every fiery orb in the sky, eventually focusing on just one. Magically, the child is sucked into space, drawn uncontrollably (à la Star Wars tractor beam) toward the vortex of raw energy that is the star’s center. Momentum gains, colors shift, a myriad of heavenly wonders orbit about him. As he floats above the great sphere, time is suspended and visions of all that has come before him whirl around his head. The voyage halts abruptly, and he is thrust back into an earthly reality.”

TERMINAL STAR tries to match this narrative. Shifts in orchestration and a mounting rhythmic and motivic complexity help to convey the starry journey, propelling us toward our terminus.

Additionally, I’ve applied a more lethal connotation to the word “terminal.” Just a brief look around our classical music world shows scores of ensembles — top-tier and community alike — folding under the pressures of decreased audiences and financial decline. The WPS is no exception to such hardships. And while we should clearly rejoice in its remarkable 50-year accomplishment, we should not get carried away with patting ourselves on the back and forget that this extraordinary local institution could vanish overnight, just like a star going supernova.


Finally, Mr. Benton would like to acknowledge Maestro Ross and his fellow musicians of the Western Piedmont Symphony:


“I have been involved with the Western Piedmont Symphony organization for 20 years, and during that tenure, I have been inspired by your amazing musicality and buoyed by your generous spirits. Thank you so much for supporting and encouraging my musical journey, and thank you for your dedication to tonight’s performance. Truly, my heart is bursting with gratitude. I feel honored to play in your ranks and privileged to call you all family.”

The world premiere of “Terminal Star” will be held at J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir, Friday, September 26, beginning at 7:30 pm in conjunction with Masterworks I, Banjo Constellation, featuring world renown banjo master, Bela Fleck.  Tickets are $22-$42, available through, or email at, or call Symphony box office at 828.324.8603 from 10am-4pm M-F.  Box office will be open one hour prior to performance. Additional information can be found at


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