A Welshman’s View of America: Seeing is Believing with Olympia Symphony Orchestra

Maestro Huw Edwards is conducting his final season with the Olympia Symphony Orchestra. But before he passes on his baton, he would like to share some of his impressions of America.

Olympia Symphony Orchestra A Welshman's View of America Huw Edwards San Francisco
A fan of cities big and small, Edwards has enjoyed sightseeing in cities like San Francisco, but he also makes plenty of time to take in the opera or the symphony where ever he goes. Photo credit: Holly Reed

Born in Wales, a tiny country that is part of the United Kingdom, Edwards first came to the United States in 1988, to Dallas. “When I first came over, as a part of my master’s program, I thought I was only going to be here two years,” he shares. “So, I really packed a lot into those first couple of years. It was like a two-year educational vacation. I took any chance I could to go.”

The opportunity to travel, and not just experience the musical culture of America, but also take in the sweeping landscapes meant a lot to Edwards. Since 1988, Edwards has visited 48 of 50 states, missing just North Dakota and Mississippi. “And that’s not just changing planes for connecting flights. I was able to do many road trips, with colleagues or friends, or when my parents would come for a visit,” he says. He was, and still is, most impressed by the vast, wide-open spaces. Wales is only 8,000 square miles. In fact, the entire United Kingdom is smaller than the state of Oregon.

“With some friends, I drove for seven hours, from Dallas to El Paso,” Edwards says. “We drove all day and we were still in Texas. In Europe, you can cross four or five countries in that time. It’s just the size, the enormity of this country. We’d pass through big cities or small towns and vast expanses, miles and miles of freeway.” Edwards enjoyed time visiting major cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Chicago most reminded him of London, being on the water. He also enjoyed the smaller cities, like Detroit, Charleston, Madison, and Savannah. Each had their own kinds of charm.

Olympia Symphony Orchestra A Welshman's View of America Huw Edwards Sets Off On An Adventure
Setting off on an adventure, Hue Edwards prepared for a road trip to the west coast in 1995. Photo courtesy: Huw Edwards

“I’ve lived more than half my life here, but the pull of home has always been there,” says Edwards. Even in his travels across the United States, there were places that made him think of home. “The Oregon coast particularly reminds me of the rugged Welsh coast of my youth.” But before he leaves, Edwards will conduct one last season, Vision: Through the Lens of Music, which is currently underway.

For the November 17 concert, “Seeing is Believing,” the orchestra will be performing Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, the one he called “From the New World,” and it is among his most famous. Dvorak left his home in Prague and spent time in the United States. Much of his work during his U.S. period was composed between time he spent in New York and summers he spent with a Czech speaking community in Spillville, Iowa. “Imagine how much time he must have spent traveling across the vast open spaces in the 1890s,” says Edwards.

Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony was heavily influenced by African American spirituals and Native American melodies and has become one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music. While the Olympia Symphony Orchestra performs “From the New World,” Seattle-based visual artist, Adrian Wyard, will conduct a visual performance on a movie screen above the orchestra, choreographing sweeping visuals from across the United States, something that Dvorak’s symphony did for the imaginations of the audiences in Europe.

Olympia Symphony Orchestra A Welshman's View of America Huw Edwards Visual Accompaniment
Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” will be enhanced by video images projected above the orchestra, coordinated in time with the conductor’s beat on-stage by Adrian Wyard. Photo courtesy: Northwest Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall

Indeed, Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony didn’t just bring melodies of the new world to the concert halls of Europe, it even found its way to outer space, when it was brought aboard Apollo 11 by Neil Armstrong.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, Seeing is Believing will also feature a contemporary piece called Starburst by Jonathan Leshnoff. “Starburst is an eight-minute sonic wonder that pulsates with life,” says Edwards.

Concertgoers will then be brought back down to earth with a solo performance by 14-year-old Portland violinist, Kaia Selden, who will perform Vivaldi’s “Winter.”

Olympia Symphony Orchestra A Welshman's View of America Huw Edwards Kaia Selden
Fourteen-year-old Portland violinist, Kaia Selden, will perform “Winter” from Vivaldi’s popular The Four Seasons, on an 1846 Enrico Ceruti violin. Photo courtesy: Ken Selden

Whether it is across the wide-open spaces of America’s prairie land or through the vastness of space, music can transport us, even if only in our own mind. With the multimedia visual component presented at the November 17 concert, this will be the perfect performance for newcomers or introducing youth to the symphony. And of course, travelers, especially those that are fond of traveling the United States will be especially entertained.

Seeing is Believing will take place on Sunday, November 17 at 3:00 p.m. on the Washington Center Main Stage in downtown Olympia. Tickets can be purchased online at The Washington Center Website or the box office downtown. The Olympia Symphony Orchestra also offers free tickets for students and their household members that have students enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs in school. To get more details about the free tickets call 360-753-0074 or email oso@olympiasymphony.org.

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