Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

“Conduct Us!” instructed the sign held up at this August’s county fair by Scott Wood, artistic director of the Arlington Philharmonic.

I was tempted—orchestra conducting being a common fantasy of us dilettantes–after hearing the 12-piece mini-orchestra’s repetitions of “Pachelbel’s Canon” and Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
I was honestly a bit shy—conducting is harder than it looks.

But this professionals-meet-novices display boosted my appreciation for the commitment of Arlington’s classical musicians to spreading their hard-won cultural fruits.

Local ears are blessed with multiple sources of homegrown classical. WETA-FM (“It just works!”) originates 24/7 from its studio in Shirlington. The National Chamber Ensemble has announced its return to live performances at Gunston Arts Center for its 15th season Nov. 6.

For the Arlington Philharmonic, the county fair gig was a first, and “we didn’t know what to expect,” said Wood. The crowd was “steady,” and there was payoff to limiting the selections to two.

Elizabeth Fogel, the Philharmonic’s president and a violinist, told me the reach-out is likely again next year for the nonprofit that receives funding from Arlington Cultural Affairs, the Arlington Arts Commission, plus state and federal sources and private donors.

“When the pandemic hit, all of us had to pivot as we postponed the rest of the season,” Fogel said, recalling their last live performance— Feb. 29, 2020, at St. George’s Episcopal Church. “We were on top of the world when the world came crashing down.” With summer concerts at Lubber Run cancelled, “we opted, given the uncertainty and with no vaccine yet, for a fully virtual season.”

The creative team came up with “lecture recitals” on Zoom, which allows the performers to talk before they perform. “Musicians over the holidays recorded themselves from home doing a Christmas music-gram. It was put on YouTube, something we’d never done before,” she said. “There was a big learning curve, but we’re taking more advantage of a resource like YouTube for archiving.”

Founded in 2006, the Philharmonic has a core group of 25 performers and about two dozen freelancers it hires for specific concerts.

There are no full-time employees, and the volunteer board plans events with a part-time operations manager.

“The arts is a business where you’re always looking for the next season,” said Fogel, who joined the board in 2019.

“When you consider revenues from 2020 with no in-person performances, it was difficult to cultivate new donors.” This year was “a strange season to plan, with venues just opening back up.”

The Arlington Philharmonic economizes by owning no building. But the rented stages at high schools “have restrictions and cleaning protocols.”

With recent efforts to attract funding and “get back in touch with donors, we’re in a pretty healthy situation.”

How do these classical “high brows” reach out to the hoi polloi? Director Wood “is a phenomenal musician who’s always thinking strategically on how to weave a story together,” Fogel enthuses. “He connects to the audience by sharing facts about composers, and we have variety of styles.” That includes collaborations with the Bowen McCauley Dance Co. and military bands such as the Singing Sergeants, plus doing “light classical pieces people recognize from movies or commercials” at their Pops in the Park.

Surprisingly, the performers “have diverse musical interests and perform in a variety of groups, not only in an orchestra setting.”

Next year, I will conduct.

Local high school swimming standout Torri Huske now races in the waters of Stanford University following her silver medal-worthy laps at the Tokyo Olympics.

Though her rise to fame this summer seemed sudden to the general public, the Yorktown High School community since the 2018-2019 school year had been witness to her record-setting.

The trophy case in the public lobby of Yorktown Aquatic Center displays no fewer than 15 plaques bearing Huske’s name. They were issued by the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association and USA Swimming.