VSO's 97th season reaches for the stars

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Although the Virginia Symphony Orchestra is approaching its 100th birthday, its latest season kicks off with a celebration of a much older body: the galaxy itself. The orchestra opens its 97th season with a trio of performances throughout Hampton Roads Friday through Sunday.

“Every year, of course, is special to us,” said music director and conductor JoAnn Falletta. “But this year, we’re starting off with a great celebration.”

It’s a tribute to all things local. A five-time Grammy winner and Newport News native, bassist Victor Wooten will join the symphony to perform “The Bass Whisperer,” an electric display of virtuosity co-written by Wooten and Conni Ellisor. Wooten, named one of the top 10 bassists of all time by Rolling Stone, has played bass for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones since the band formed in 1988.

The weekend’s concerts also commemorate the 100th anniversary of NASA Langley, including a segment honoring Katherine Johnson, who was portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures.” The VSO will perform Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a sweeping seven-part suite in which each movement focuses on a different planet in the solar system, excluding Earth.

“Celebrating our region is going to make us all feel proud,” Falletta said, adding that many in the region are connected to the Hampton-based center through family and friends. “NASA has so greatly enriched the quality of life in our region. And of course, what they’ve done for our country is amazing.”

The three concerts launch with contemporary composer Randall Svane’s “Quantum Flight,” marking the piece’s Virginia debut.

“That’s a great start,” Falletta said. “We’re getting off to a great start for our classic season.”

The rest of the season includes concerts celebrating the music of Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, German composer Richard Wagner, film composer John Williams and classic rockers such as Journey. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the orchestra will perform every note from the score of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” while the film simultaneously plays.

The season sees the symphony traversing all over southeastern Virginia. That includes four stops in Williamsburg, such as the “Holiday Brass” concert in time for Christmas and “Copland’s Clarinet Concert” at the College of William and Mary’s Phi Beta Kappa Hall next month.

Falletta said the season features a “fun repertoire” and numerous “dramatic and really exciting concerts.”

“We’ve tried to keep our concerts unique,” she said. “People are always surprised, and I like that. People are never quite sure what they’re going to hear.”

Want to go?

The VSO’s season opener concerts run 8 p.m. Friday at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, 8 p.m. Saturday at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Virginia Beach’s Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets start at $25. They can be purchased through virginiasymphony.org by calling 892-6366 or at the VSO Box Office, 150 Boush St., Suite 201, Norfolk.

For more information on the upcoming season, visit virginiasymphony.org.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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