Haven for Artists: Ohio Valley Symphony Marks 25 Years (Part 1 of 2)

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Lora SnowThis year The Ohio Valley Symphony (OVS) in Gallipolis, Ohio, celebrates its 25th season. We recently talked with Lora Lynn Snow, OVS founder, executive director and principal oboist, to learn more about the group’s origins and unique home. OVS’ story is so interesting, we’re going to split it into two weeks.

YPP: How did OVS get started?

Snow: In 1987 I had a vision to start an orchestra – to create a haven for artists and put my own work philosophies into place. I believe most people want to work hard and have fun at the same time. From my own playing experience, I felt too many orchestras took away the joy and passion of making music. Great performances demand some kind of visceral response – it should make you laugh, cry, shiver with goose bumps, gasp or something. Otherwise, why bother?

Today, OVS musicians hail from six states and play with a number of other prestigious orchestras including the Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, West Virginia and Roanoke Symphonies. Many teach at colleges and universities and others are freelance musicians who play in multiple ensembles.

World-class soloists often join OVS in making music, including J. Mark McVey, who starred on Broadway as Jean Valjean in Les Mis; David Kim, concert master with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Elizabeth Pitcairn, owner of the Red Violin Strad (of the movie fame); pianist Cecile Licad; and jazz artist Byron Stripling.

YPP: How did your symphony’s special home come about?

Snow: As my orchestra plans were forming, I toured Gallipolis’ historic Ariel Theatre, which had been chained shut for 25 years. I was immediately captured by the hall’s acoustic qualities. It’s an extraordinary instrument with the characteristics of 19th century European concert halls, including thick plaster-covered walls and a shoebox shape. But the building was a mess of crumbling plaster, debris and pigeon droppings.

A grass-roots community effort began restoring the theatre, including a “seat sale” fundraiser and volunteer laborers. To showcase the hall’s acoustics and inspire further renovation, I organized an orchestra concert in April 1989. The audience and musicians shivered on borrowed folding chairs; the outside temperature dropped into the 30’s with only space heaters inside. Despite the conditions, it was a magical performance.

Further restoration efforts followed, including an all-volunteer all-night effort recreating the ornate ceiling stenciling. Seat installers worked until minutes before the Grand Re-Opening concert in June 1990. Subscription series tickets for the next season went on sale that night and sold out. OVS had a home! In 2005, Ann Carson Dater purchased the entire facility to be OVS’ permanent home and a community arts center.

Ohio Valley SymphonyYPP: What chairs do your musicians use?

Snow: We borrowed folding chairs for years, but they weren’t very comfortable. I dreamed of having Wenger Musician chairs like many orchestras do. In 2005, Wenger sent me a sample Nota chair to evaluate in my home studio. I could not believe the difference – what a huge leap forward!

With the Nota chair, you’re not sitting – you’re poised for action. It seems to put you in the exact spot you need to work. You can forget where you are and focus all your energy on your music, rather than squirming, wiggling and trying to get comfortable.

We bought 60 padded Nota chairs with red upholstery, to coordinate with the theatre’s interior. I wanted to have a little fun with the color and they look fabulous! Red is a wonderful break from the boring black that surrounds most musicians.

YPP: How are you celebrating your anniversary?

A: We’ve been celebrating throughout the season. At each concert, the maestro has found yet another “Happy Birthday” arrangement! We also commissioned a special piece of music from Brant Adams, a well-known composer/musician who grew up here. The premiere of “A French City Christmas” took place on December 6, 2014.

Next week: Snow shares a few factors behind their success, including win-win partnerships and fiscal responsibility.

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