Fairfax orchestra to enchant festival crowd

By Josette Keelor

In honor of the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival’s 50th anniversary season, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will perform the first song it played in its 1963 concert: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

Festival director Dennis Lynch said he asked orchestra director Christopher Zimmerman to perform the symphony next weekend “in honor of our founders.”

“It was the very first program that every happened at the festival,” Lynch said. “So it’s just our little nod to their good taste. And their persistence.”

If not for the founders telling everyone “Yes, there is a great place for music in the Shenandoah Valley,” Lynch said, the festival might not have lasted to today. Founders included Harry F. Byrd Jr. of Winchester, William Keister of Strasburg, Col. Robert Benchoff and Mrs. Guy Benchoff of Woodstock, and several others from around Shenandoah County.

“We are glad they were persistent,” Lynch said.

On July 26, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will perform a program of classical music conducted by Zimmerman, and on July 27, guest conductor Luke Frazier will offer “An Enchanted Evening” of music by famed writing duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

With well-known tunes from musicals like “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific,” Lynch said they’re all old favorites. “But he has put them together into a new package.”

“This is essentially a new show,” Lynch said.

Frazier, a Parkersburg, W.Va. native, divides his time between New York City and Washington, where he regularly conducts ensembles. Most recently having finished a workshop for a new musical “Enchanted April” at the Arena Stage in Washington.

Like in the NBC show “Smash,” he said, the goal of the workshop is to make a new musical. Frazier said he chose members of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra for the “Enchanted April.”

In next Saturday’s performance, his first as conductor with the orchestra and at the festival, he’ll include 14 pieces from various musicals.

“The big thing I wanted to do was I wanted to make a show that would show off the creativity of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” he said.

But he didn’t want to offer any typical medley of show tunes — he wanted them to fit together and tell a story.

Narrating the story will be Jennifer Crier Johnston, who played a chamber maiden in the movie version of “My Fair Lady.”

“She’s a friend of mine, and that’s why I asked her,” Frazier said.

The performances also will include two Grammy-winning soloists, Michael Bunce and Rachelle Fleming, and two back up soloists he said have performed extensively along the eastern seaboard.

When asked to produce a program for the music festival, Frazier considered selections by George Gershwin or Cole Porter, or having a 1930s dance music show, but ultimately he decided on Rodgers and Hammerstein songs because of their universal appeal.

“I wanted to do a program that the audience could easily connect to it,” he said. “I wanted to put together a show that would bring many generations of people together. So many people can sing along to the entire show.”

And, with any luck, Orkney Springs might be only the first stop for “An Enchanted Evening” on its journey.

“We would love to see Fairfax Symphony take this show other places because we think it has a lot of appeal,” Frazier said. “It’s a pretty special opportunity I feel like.”

The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will perform classical masterworks at 8 p.m. on July 26 and “An Enchanted Evening” with Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites at 8 p.m. July 27. On both nights preferred pavilion seats are $39, regular pavilion seats are $34 and general admission to the lawn is $29. Gates open at 6 p.m. The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival is held at 81 Shrine Mont Circle in Orkney Springs. For more information, call 540-459-3396 or visit www.musicfest.org.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com