For most of the Christmas season, Roanoke is a veritable wasteland for seasonal music. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is about as good as it gets, at least on a regular basis.
But a breath of fresh air occasionally seeps in and last night at Thrasher United Methodist Church in Vinton, which is an acoustic marvel, David Wiley and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra received a prolonged standing ovation after finishing the final bars of Handel’s “Messiah,” a familiar celebration that appeals equally to the religious and non-religious. That was apparent in the enthusiastic full house at the large auditorium.
This was a scaled-down version of the RSO with about 13 instruments and four soloists—three of them music professors at Liberty University in Lynchburg, and all impressively accomplished. By the time the orchestra reached the familiar “Hallelujah Chorus,” the crowd was ready to pounce, the hairs on its collective neck raised in anticipation. RSO delivered spectacularly with Wiley in full maestro.
Among the soloists, the star was easily young Adelaide Muir Trombetta, a soprano with a near excess of stage presence to go with her breathtaking singing voice. She made her Carnegie Hall debut this past April, sang on the Metropolitan Opera stage at the age of 21 and is a regular feature with a number of symphonies. She is an assistant professor of voice at Liberty and director of the university’s Opera Workshop.
The alto, and only non-Liberty prof, was Samantha Miller, who with her husband is a songwriter whose first live recording “The Sound of Revival” was released in 2017. Tenor John Hugo teaches Music Theory and History at Liberty and is the Roanoke Symphony Chorus’s chorus master. Bass Wayne Kompelein is a regular with the RSO, Opera Roanoke and Opera James as well as the founder of the active opera program at Liberty.
These four provided the human face of Handel’s work and the small orchestra and large chorus filled the hall with the wonders of Handel’s work. Wiley, as always, was active, his bushy gray hair emphasizing his hand movements as the music swelled and filled the hall.
It is a delight to see the symphony in venues other than its home at the Jefferson Center and playing in large churches—where acoustics are all but legendary—is a pleasant offering.
We have a good symphony here, one so good, in fact, that economic developers use it as a lure for companies considering locating in Roanoke. It was good to see a full appreciation of it last night.