This feature has been provided as part of a publicity exchange between CVNC and Audioggi/Lana Shkadova for a nonprofit classical music series that is in development. CVNC served as a media sponsor of the series, and received in-kind publicity in exchange. More information on CVNC’s publicity exchanges.

As a Triangle-based NC native, I hadn’t been to High Point in years, and even then, I think it was furniture-related. Tucked away a little south of Winston-Salem and Greensboro, High Point is an essential fixture in North Carolina, but to be honest, I hadn’t considered it as an arts scene. But that perception of High Point is unfair, and is what Lana Shkadova of Audioggi LLC seeks to change.

High Point is in a great position for arts enthusiasts: between these two larger cities, it’s not too far out of the way from numerous high-quality orchestras, theatre companies, art museums, top-notch university programs, and thriving arts communities.

Indeed, High Point already has its own established arts scene, though its notoriety is mostly local. The High Point Arts Council has been a hub for the area since 1962, a united arts council that supports at least five local organizations: Carousel Theatre, HP Ballet, HP Community Theatre, HP Community Concerts, and Piedmont Artists. In fact, the Arts Council’s Arts Splash Summer Concert Series is already well under way, and just across town from Pandora’s Manor, the Sahara Reggae Band had a concert scheduled this weekend as well.

The team that came together this weekend to present Geoffrey Westley’s Romanza Tour represents a larger network of arts lovers that seek to highlight High Point and its own artists, and to further show off the hidden gem of a city that it already is.

Geoffrey Westley is a London-based pianist, conductor, composer, and arranger with a huge list of credentials impressive and entertaining in and of itself. A couple of my favorite entries: Musical Director on world tours for the Bee Gees (as a result of a job backing a comedian in an informal show on a pier), keyboard player and conductor on the soundtrack of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Travels in the Arctic Circle, a chamber opera commissioned by the Royal Opera House. Westley was performing in Milan, at a festival that sounds completely idyllic: Piano City Milano, in which pianos are scattered about in various parks and squares and the air is completely alive with music. Soon after, he received an email from Shkadova, asking if he’d be up for a visit to High Point.

This chance meeting evolved into what the team hopes will become an annual classical music concert series. This first event was effectively a soft launch of the project, bringing together enthusiastic partnerships for a weekend of beautiful music.

The venue, Pandora’s Manor Bed & Breakfast, is a 1905-built Southern home, originally belonging to Henry and Pandora Fraser, and is steeped in High Point’s rich home decor tradition. Each of six guest rooms received top-quality design services by renowned designers, and the property is now managed by Chicago-based Eastern Accents. The property is tucked away in a gorgeous little pocket of greenery and white wood and stone, a deceptively quiet little place – at least until the Friday night fireworks from across the street at Truist Point kicked off! Thankfully, this was after the concert.

Richard Ruggero of Ruggero Piano is a huge supporter of classical music in the Triangle and across the state (having served on the CVNC board for several years), personally oversaw the delivery and tuning of a Bösendorfer 280 VC to the gorgeous event space. Decked in romantic hanging greenery and glowing candles (and, with the Bösendorfer, a musician’s dream wedding venue!), the room provided an intimate, salon-style concert. A note about the Bösendorfer to those of you who, as I did, thought Steinways were the end-all luxury piano: only about 275 Bösendorfer pianos are produced in a year, in a handcrafted tradition that dates back to 1828 and includes an interesting experience with Franz Liszt!

Friday’s concert was one of three, with another on Saturday evening in Charlotte, and a repeat at Pandora’s Manor on Sunday evening. Westley performed original works in a casual setting, interspersing fun tales of how his improvisations came to be, and detailing the wild and sometimes random way in which his career progressed. His playing was calm, pleasant, and light, producing silky, dark tones on the beautiful instrument with a gentle touch. Although he remained relaxed and cool, and his compositions tended toward the mellow and nostalgic, the music was not without interest. Much of his works are based on classical influences; Westley credits his early time spent listening to and studying Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn, and many more. Says Westley, “The music that we produce when we are creating is a sum of the music that we have absorbed as listeners.” These classical influences definitely color his style, but in every work he includes an extra sparkle, an excursion into something unexpected, like a little wink. The overall effect was a pleasant and thought-provoking concert, interspersed with more programmatic pieces from Westley’s compositions for various contracted projects, like the incidental music he composed for Gianni Rodari’s quirky “Telephone Tales.”

Artistic Director Lana Shkadova served as host, producer, marketing guru, and more – and all of it with a smile! Herself a pianist and avid arts lover, she is a passionate proponent of classical music and wants nothing more than to make it more accessible to her friends and neighbors. Shkadova is a photographer for the Eastern Music Festival (another major sponsor for this series), as well as many other events, and is already planning for Westley’s return next year. Her goal is to present a curated series that highlights the work of local, up-and-coming composers and artists, as well as arts ambassadors like Westley who can bring in high-quality music while remaining grounded, relevant, and likable – if not completely charming. The whole team has made a very strong start of it, through enthusiastic relationships and a share passion for the arts, and I truly look forward to seeing what comes out of this project.