PHOTO: Bartram conducting

Dr. Kevin Bartram conducting the UMW Philharmonic Orchestra in 2018.

I HAVE many friends in Fredericksburg, and some of them are connected to the University of Mary Washington.

I am a “friend” of the Great Lives series, a “friend” of Belmont, a “friend” of the Theatre Department and a “friend” of the UMW Philharmonic.

The latter friendship is about to change.



For reasons that I fail to understand, the wonderful Celebrity Series of the UMW Philharmonic is losing its creator and conductor, Dr. Kevin Bartram. He is responsible for bringing artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Rene Fleming and Tony Bennett to Fredericksburg.

Yes, to Fredericksburg.

Bartram’s creative ventures also include Rick Steves, who last Christmas regaled us with European history while we listened to music from the Danube and the Alps. The Boston Pops was so impressed with the program that they booked Steves to do the same concert with them.

This spring, our city will get to hear from the granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, who will narrate the symphonic piece “Rockwell Reflections” while we view the famous images that inspired the music.

Bartram is also working with orchestra directors from other institutions of higher learning to find American classical masterworks that have been long forgotten.

UMW students visit the Library of Congress to find lesser known works by famous composers, and then get to bring the music to life with the orchestra. I heard one student speak on campus about her research, and her joy and wonder at finding a work by Aaron Copeland was palpable.

Now we are about to lose this conductor and his programs, and I wonder why.

There is talk of taking the orchestra in a “new direction,” but I also hear from students that having the opportunity to create beautiful music with these famous guests has been a highlight of their musical education.

I am also told that some music students choose UMW because of the Celebrity Series. If the administration believes there is too much focus on these artists, could a compromise not be found where one or two concerts each year feature a well-known celebrity? The rest of the concerts and educational experiences can focus solely on the students.

To be a “friend” of the UMW Philharmonic means you pay a minimum of $100 a year so you can reserve seats to concerts before the general public has a chance to do so. It’s worth that to get a seat close to Joshua Bell.

But I am not going to pay that extra $100 annually to hear a concert without a headliner. The music will be wondrous no matter where I sit in Dodd Auditorium. If the university thinks the money that currently runs the self-supporting Celebrity Series is going to them, they’re wrong. It’s just going to disappear.

When the Silber family, owners of the Fredericksburg Nationals, heard complaints that season tickets were too expensive and too restrictive (you had to buy in for a minimum of three years) they listened. And they made changes. Now you can buy a one-year season ticket plan, and prices went down for those who opted for longer contracts.

Why can’t UMW and Dr. Bertram come to a similar compromise?

Not being a member of the orchestra, or an executive with the university, I am in the dark as to what is really going on here.

But I do know that this program, which has had amazing success, will be a great loss to the musicians and the community unless we join together to try to save it.

Penny A. Parrish, who retired from careers in law enforcement and media, is currently a fine art photographer who lives in Fredericksburg.

Penny A. Parrish, who retired from careers in law enforcement and media, is currently a fine art photographer who lives in Fredericksburg.

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