In a historic first for the Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, the world of the traditional classical symphony orchestra will merge with the modem combination of...

In a historic first for the Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, the world of the traditional classical symphony orchestra will merge with the modem combination of electric guitars, bass, vocals, and rhythm sets as the Chester-based variety band, Outside the Wire, joins with the 55-member Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in its 5th annual Cabaret event on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Larry-Lyles-and-bandThis collaboration was the brainchild of PSO member Larry Lyles. Since 2014, he has been the music director for Chester-based Trigate Productions, partnering with company president and producer Lee McDowell and his son, program director Brandon McDowell. With the creation of Trigate’s most recent project Outside the Wire last year. Lyles saw the opportunity for both groups to share their talents and create a unique sound. Since December, his free time has been devoted to writing musical arrangements to fit the instrumental needs of both groups.

The idea of blending contemporary music into the orchestra is not new. Lyles said it has literally been done since the days of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. What is unique now is the variety of music genres being performed.

“As a child, I was fascinated with the collaboration of the British group The Moody Blues and the London Festival Orchestra on the Days of Future Past album,” said Lyles. “It is not uncommon for major symphony orchestras to include unique groups at their pops concerts. Regarding Outside the Wire and the Petersburg Symphony, I have seen firsthand the positive responses to both of these groups from individual audiences and I think the blending of the two is going to be nothing short of fantastic.

The blending of diverse musical talents in this project is notable. Symphony Music director/conductor Ulyssses Kirksey is best known in his performing capacity as a baroque cellist, though his first instrument was saxophone, and he spent years playing for Broadway shows in addition to various orchestra memberships and concert tours. Lyles, a 23-year member of the symphony’s violin section, has partnered with numerous other musical projects in the area, and he is best known as the jazz violinist in the acoustic group Gypsy Roots. Trigate’s Lee McDowell is equally well known in the music industry as both accomplished percussionist and sound engineer, having collaborated with projects ranging from Christian artists Steven Curtis Chapman, George Beverly Shea, and Billy Graham Crusade to the rock groups 38 Special, Dixie Dregs, and Nothing Fancy. Brandon McDowell participates in the performances as vocalist and sound engineer, and he is a world class trumpeter with a music performance degree from Christoper Newport University.

“We don’t consider Outside the Wire a band,” said Lee McDowell. “We consider it a project, as we are always experimenting with new ideas and new music. We do a variety of genres in our particular style, such as country, pop, hard rock, and even a little bluegrass, having Larry on the fiddle.”

Kirksey, the symphony’s music director since 1989, is excited about the joint venture. “We want people to know that a symphony orchestra concert need not be formal and repressive. People who enjoy being on theft feet dancing to popular tunes will enjoy this, and the people who prefer the more traditional concert format can simply sit and enjoy. Either way, we’ll have a dance floor available!”

Outside the Wire will be performing some of their tunes by themselves at the Cabaret, and they will be teaming up with the orchestra to perform tunes popularized in the 1970s by groups such as the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, and Chicago, along with a few surprises.

In addition to Outside the Wire, the Symphony will be joined by Virginia State University’s renowned Sankofa Dance Theater, a professionally trained performing arts group that performs modem-jazz choreography with emphasis on African-American heritage.

This annual fund raising event for the symphony includes the music, hors d’oeuvres, and wine, as well as a silent auction of goods and services provided by local merchants.

The Cabaret will take place at the Gateway Dining and Event Center on the VSU Campus Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $50.
For more information, call (804) 931-7778, or e-mail