CULTURE- BUZZBOX- 25 years: Celebrating Laura Mulligan Thomas

When conductor Laura Mulligan arrived at Charlottesville High School in 1982 at age 22, she was hardly older than her students. Now entering her 25th year as conductor of the award-winning high school symphony, Mulligan Thomas (who is now married) has her own children– including one who will start at CHS next year– as well as many grateful alumni, some of whom have gone on to careers in music. 

Three of those talented alums return to help honor Thomas at 8pm on December 20 at the Paramount Theater, as the CHS Orchestra gives a performance that will also serve as a holiday celebration and fundraiser for the group's planned spring trip to perform in London.

The invitation to participate in the Heritage Music Festival is a great honor.

"It's highly competitive and held at the Royal Academy of Music," says Thomas. "The venue is steeped in history–a lot of famous composers have made their mark there." 

Helping raise money to send Thomas and the orchestra on the trip wasn't a hard decision for Carolyn Stuart, who arrived at CHS as a junior in 1983.

"We really owe Laura a big thanks," says Stuart, 40, now a professional violinist. Thomas, says Stuart, "is so full of energy. Her enthusiasm and passion for music are infectious."

Stuart, now a faculty member at the University of South Florida who has performed worldwide, is one of three alums presenting solo violin performances at the fete. 

Another returning fan is Caroline Buckman, who has performed with famous acts including Gnarls Barkley (of the recent hit, "Does that make me crazy?"), Tony Bennett, Jethro Tull, and Stevie Wonder, and has recorded albums with artists Christina Aguilera, Patti LaBelle, Barry Manilow and Bette Midler. 

Timothy Summers, co-founder and co-director of the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival and who performs nationally and internationally, is the third soloist who was inspired by Mulligan Thomas.   

From its start with just eight members in 1982, the orchestra, now with 140 string players, in past years has taken honors at festivals in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago and even Vienna, Austria in 1998. 

The estimated cost of this year's transatlantic trip: $315,000, one third of which the students hope to raise through this gala performance, car washes, and other fundraisers. The remaining two thirds will come from private donations.The upcoming performance features the orchestra playing Corelli's Christmas Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, and other seasonal favorites. Soloists will play the Bach Double Concerto, Bartok, and Brandenburg's Concerto #6.

All concert tickets are $20 and may be purchased at the Paramount Theater Box Office, 979-1333.  

Laura Mulligan Thomas