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Symphony profiles West Virginia

June 6, 2013
From staff reports , The Herald-Star

WHEELING - The Wheeling Symphony will celebrate West Virginia's sesquicentennial with a free concert that will include the world premiere of "Forever Free, Fanfare-Overture for West Virginia" by composer Kenneth Fuchs.

The June 20 concert will feature performances by three of West Virginia's own - mandolin superstar Johnny Staats, Grammy Award-winning singer Kathy Mattea and "America's Got Talent" winner Landau Eugene Murphy.

"Forever Free" was commissioned by the Wheeling Symphony and made possible by support from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, West Virginia Commission on the Arts; West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Commission; Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.; the city of Wheeling; Peter Holloway; John and Gail Looney; and Lea Ridenhour.

Article Photos

TO PERFORM – Grammy Award-winning singer Kathy Mattea will be one of the guest performers who will help the Wheeling Symphony celebrate West Virginia’s 150th birthday during a free concert June 20. - Contributed

The concert will be the culmination of daylong activities in Wheeling, the birthplace of West Virginia. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling. It is free and open to the public. Fireworks will follow the performance.

"To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of West Virginia, Kenneth Fuchs has written a brilliant new celebratory work entitled 'Forever Free.' The world premiere of this work is much anticipated, given Fuchs' gift for melody and commission of the piece by the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. We can't wait to bring this new work to life," said Andre Raphel, the symphony's music director.

"Fuchs has composed music which captures the spirit of the citizens of West Virginia. In 'Forever Free,' Ken deftly weaves elements of the state's musical heritage with sections of ceremonial fanfare. It is inspiring music, apropos to the occasion and memorable in character," Raphel continued. "By creating "Forever Free" as a fanfare-overture for orchestra, Kenneth Fuchs has added to an important area of the concert repertoire with a short celebratory opener. Since the piece will be transcribed for symphonic band, it will make the work accessible for performances by high school and college bands throughout the state, thus ensuring that this commissioned work will have a performance life long beyond 2013."

Fuchs is excited about the piece as well.

"Maestro Raphel suggested that I compose a work incorporating indigenous elements of the state's musical heritage, capturing in musical sound the robust spirit of West Virginia citizens and the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the year-long commemoration of the state's 150th anniversary. He also suggested that the orchestral version of the work be transcribed for symphonic band, thereby making it accessible for performance by high school and college students throughout the state during the sesquicentennial year."

"Forever Free" is just one component of the event in Wheeling.

"The concert will be a celebration of West Virginia artists with Kathy Mattea, Landau Eugene Murphy and Johnny Staats performing their well-known hits," said Bruce Wheeler, symphony executive director.

"Forever Free" is cast in one movement in three sections. The title is inspired by the state motto "Montani semper liberi," which literally translates to "Mountaineers forever free."

The work is unified at the outset and closing by a ceremonial fanfare theme characterized by an upward-aspiring scalar figure based on state song "West Virginia Hills." An arching lyrical theme accompanied by a militaristic snare drum and timpani cadence emerges from the majestic opening measures, elaborating further on characteristic melodic details of the state song.

All of these elements are then deployed in various instrumental combinations, providing the basis for musical development and culminating in a buoyant fugato based on the melody of "West Virginia Hills."

"Forever Free" was composed from December through February in Mansfield Center, Conn.

"I am indebted to Maestro Andre Raphel for his encouragement and advice during the composition of this work, and to the administrative staff of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra for organizing its sponsorship," Fuchs said.

Fuchs has composed music for orchestra, band, chorus and various chamber ensembles. With Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, he created three chamber musicals - "The Great Nebula in Orion," "A Betrothal" and "Brontosaurus, originally presented by Circle Repertory Co. in New York City. His music has been performed in the United States, Europe, China and Japan.

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