Virginia Symphony's Holiday Brass: From upstage to front and center


Though resident conductor Benjamin Rous typically doesn't conduct the Virginia Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Brass ensemble, he'll take the podium during the ensemble's upcoming performances.

Needless to say, Rous is excited.

"Our brass section is really a very well-blended and well-balanced unit, and when you hear them on their own, it's the most remarkable sound," he said. "The sonorities are ringing and bright and pure and powerful, all at once."

The annual Holiday Brass concert, stopping in Williamsburg Dec. 15, features the full orchestral brass section, Rous said. Trumpets, french horns, trombones and tuba — plus percussion and timpani.

They're integral sections. Without them, the orchestra's sound would be markedly different. Still, they're sections that often "wait their turn," as Rous described.

"Having them in the spotlight is really radically different for them and for me as a conductor," he said. "Because their instruments are all similar to each other, they can have a really, really unified way of playing, and for me, it's about just trying to get into their world of what it's like to play their instruments."

Something as simple as the fact that the brass section, unlike strings, has to breathe together, Rous said.

The varied Holiday Brass program includes classical works such as Rimsky-Korsakov's Polonaise from "Christmas Eve," contemporary favorites like "Carol of the Bells" and "White Christmas," as well as what Rous describes as a "rip-roaring Hanukkah tune."

But what Rous thinks audiences will enjoy, regardless of what's played, is who's playing and how it's played. These sections typically sit in the back of the orchestra and, from the podium, Rous said he always sees the musicians grinning, as if in on a joke.

"These players have so much fun back there, and so it's just plain old fun on the stage when they get to take over and have their vibe carry the day," Rous said. "I have fun at this concert."

In the same vein, the Virginia Symphony Society of Greater Williamsburg's pre-concert dinner highlights an instrument typically found near the back of the orchestra: the harp.

"An audience member doesn't get that close to a harp, so they really appreciate a situation where they're literally sitting 5 feet away from me," said Barbara Chapman, a harpist with the orchestra for nearly 30 years, who will present a short program at the dinner.

The society, a local fund raising arm of the symphony, often hosts events before Virginia Symphony Orchestra performances in Williamsburg that include a musician from the orchestra. Chapman enjoys the chance to connect with local audiences.

"It's very important I think for the audience to know the players on stage, but it's also for the players to get connected with some of our audience members," she said. "An opportunity to connect with the audience members is just such a community builder."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Holiday Brass

When: 8 p.m., Dec. 15

Where: Phi Beta Kappa Hall, 601 Jamestown Road

To purchase tickets, call 757-892-6366 or visit

Pre-concert dinner

When: 5:15 p.m., Dec. 15

Where: The Eagles Restaurant, 1010 Kingsmill Road

For reservations and more information, call Gus Guastaferro at 757-258-3039.

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