~ The following first appeared in the April 24, 2014 edition of The Floyd Press.
A red piano, a world champion classical whistler, a renowned symphony conductor who has worked with Billy Joel, and a young violinist who was a top ten finalist on America’s Got Talent were some of the elements that made a recent house concert in Meadows of Dan a memorable experience for all who attended.
The concert, held in the home of Lorrie and Doug Mann against a backdrop of mountain views, was presented to benefit Virginia’s Blue Ridge Music Festival (VBRMF), which brings classical music mentors and academy students together for ensemble and symphony performances throughout Floyd County each spring.
In a great room adorned with fresh cut flowers, and with the sweet scent of dessert in the air, VBRMF board member Mary Wiley welcomed a crowd of about 70. “The festival is an exciting endeavor for our region, one that helps make wonderful classical music more accessible and brings a greatly expanded focus to the truly amazing assets of our area,” she said before introducing VBRMF’s artistic director David Wiley (her son) to attendees.
Maestro Wiley (pictured to the left), who currently serves as the director/conductor of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and New York’s Long Island Philharmonic, spoke about the joy of mentoring last year’s festival fellows and seeing them celebrated. He emphasized the festival’s dedication to educational outreach and outlined some of the exciting upcoming performances scheduled for this year’s weekend festival, which will include a gala concert (with a wine and food reception) featuring concertmaster Akemi Takayama, composer/mandolin virtuoso Jeff Midkiff and a chamber orchestra conducted by Wiley; a lakeside Sunset Serenade with the Blacksburg Community Band; and a family concert that will explore the connections between great music of the past and 20th century popular and jazz music that was inspired by it.
Following a piano performance of an original composition, Wiley introduced classical whistler Zachary Groff, saying, “One of the great privileges in my work and in my travels here and abroad is to experience new artists and new art forms.” Wiley had only heard about the art form of classical whistling and expressed his enthusiasm for the opportunity to collaborate with a “rising young star in the field.” Groff, a pianist/composer and the son of Lorrie Mann, performed an original composition with whistling as the primary instrument.
Another featured performing musician who added to the high quality of talent presented, was violinist Sage Wright (pictured in photo 1), a Roanoke high school senior and past VBRMS academy fellow. Wright, along with her siblings as “The Wright Kids,” was a Top Ten finalist on season 3 of America’s Got Talent.
The festival’s new director, Meg Carter, also spoke to the crowd and expressed the importance of the arts, which she referred to as sustaining and inspiring. She (pictured with Wiley in photo 2) suggested that one of the ways we can support the arts is to spread the word about “the newest thread in the musical fabric of this region.” “We don’t want anyone to miss this amazing music and experience,” she said.
Post notes: Only a small number of red Steinway pianos are in existence (less than a dozen are said to have been made), and the Mann’s are the proud owners of one. In the celebratory spirit of the house concert, Lorrie Mann (pictured in the last photo) presented her husband Doug with a red piano cake for his 70th birthday. Read about last year’s festival and see photos HERE and HERE.