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Long-Time Symphony Members Make Special Gift In Retirement

Bette and Wolfgang Roth in their home.

Bette and Wolfgang Roth in their home. The Charlotte Symphony has launched an ambitious effort to raise $40 million over the next decade. That's money the organization needs to find stable financial footing after years of deficits. A couple of well-known philanthropists and corporate giants made half-a-million dollar gifts to kick off the campaign, but the much smaller contribution of Wolfgang and Bette Roth has particular meaning. They retired this summer as two of the symphony's longest-serving musicians and have now given the equivalent of a year's salary to the fundraising effort. Raleigh in 1968: Bette was a 21-year-old beauty queen from Missouri. Wolfgang - just a few years older - was in town from Germany to play with the North Carolina Symphony. "At the first rehearsal when I brought my harp back on my shoulder and looked across and saw him sitting there with the violin under his chin, it was love at first sight," says Bette. They married and almost immediately began touring and recording as The Roth Duo. The Roths moved to Germany so Wolfgang could finish his Masters degree, and in 1971, they got wind of a professional orchestra starting up in Charlotte. Wolfgang was the first musician to sign a contract. "The plan was, 'Well let's try it for a year and one-year had turned into 40-years with the Symphony,'" says Wolfgang. A tenure like that is "quite extraordinary," says Charlotte Symphony music director Christopher Warren-Green. "Nowadays it's so easy to jet around the world with borders down flitting like butterflies here there an everywhere." But the Roths stayed put, bringing a maturity and wisdom to the symphony, Bette as principal harpist, Wolfgang as principal second violinist. They nurtured younger musicians who came and went and enjoyed the variety new conductors brought to the symphony over the years. Bette says the main thing that kept them engaged in the Symphony over the years was how much it improved. "Truly every decade - or every five years - even you could notice a real improvement in the orchestra. We just kept getting better and better," says Bette. They grew with the Symphony until finally, this year, it was time to let a new generation take over. Bette will be 65. Wolfgang is 67 and arthritis has started to make playing the violin painful. Bette was feeling the tug of her expanding studio of private harp students. But after 40 years with the symphony, they felt compelled to do something more. The organization has perpetually struggled to cover its expenses, running a $2 million deficit each of the last few years and already trimming more than a million dollars in costs. That included a number of concessions from the people playing the instruments, who took cuts in fees and salary to help close the funding gap . . . which makes the Roths' gift even more meaningful. "Well, I just thought it was one of the most wonderful things I've ever heard," says Warren Green. "It is quite unusual." They prefer not to talk specifics, but the Roths have given a contribution of between $25,000 and $50,000 to the Symphony's recapitalization campaign. The current salary for Charlotte Symphony musicians is $36,500. Christopher Warren-Green was so moved he is naming the principal second violin chair after Wolfgang. Bette says the gift was not a "head decision" but a "heart" one. "Our heart is so much with the orchestra, with the conductor, with the management, with the leaders with the whole organization. . . we've been given so much that we wanted to - out of gratitude - give back," says Bette. "And hopefully it inspires some others, too," adds Wolfgang. "But that's not really the intent. It's something that God has laid upon our hearts and that's why we did it." He chokes up when talking about the principal second violin chair that will bear his name. "That's very overwhelming in a sense," says Wolfgang. "I didn't deserve it. It was a very nice gesture of the leadership here and I feel very honored." Incidentally, the principal harp chair can't be named for Bette Roth because it was endowed in Billy Graham's honor many years ago. The Roths have committed to make guest appearances with the Charlotte Symphony from time to time. But Wolfgang says he's already enjoying sitting in the audience at Symphony performances. "I think there are so many capable people who can fill the stage that we really don't have to be there," says Wolfang. "But if it happens sometime, that will be fine." "I think we definitely felt like we really left on a high note, so we're very grateful for that," adds Bette.