HAMPTON ROADS, VA [January 3, 2020] — The Virginia Symphony Orchestra will pay homage to the visionary civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 19, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. Entitled “Songs for a Dreamer,” it is the largest arts celebration of Dr. King’s life annually in Hampton Roads.

This performance is free and open to the public and will take place at Booker T. Washington High School located at 1111 Park Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23504.

The multi-media concert will feature the musicians of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kellen Gray, as well as performances from the I. Sherman Greene Chorale and soloists Stephanie Saunders and Brendon Elliot. The concert is presented with support from the City of Norfolk. 

Kellen Gray, currently Assistant Conductor at the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra, has earned a reputation as a versatile and imaginative conductor through his enthusiasm for traditional, experimental, and integrative multimedia art programs. 

Prior to his Charleston appointment, Gray was Assistant Conductor at Chicago Sinfonietta and Associate Conductor of the Columbus (Georgia) Ballet from 2016 to 2018. Trained as a violinist and originally from Rock Hill, South Carolina, Gray was named a Project Inclusion Conducting Fellow in 2016.  Gray spoke on a 2018 League of American Orchestras conference discussion panel on the value of leadership pipelines in classical music based on diversity, inclusion, and equity. He earned an undergraduate degree in Violin Performance and an Artist’s Diploma in Orchestral Conducting from the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University and a master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting from Valdosta State University.

A highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the VSO’s annual Dreamer Award to Ms. Elizabeth Eccles, former director of the I. Sherman Greene Chorale. Eccles is a retired music educator who taught classroom and choral music in the Norfolk City School System for 34 years, followed by five years as the Music Education Coordinator in the Department of Music at Hampton University. She earned her BS degree from Norfolk State (College) University, MME degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Music Education from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. In addition to teaching, her career has included positions of church organist/pianist, choir director, and soloist.

Stephanie Saunders is a concert bassoonist and jazz saxophonist and the Assistant Band Director (Spartan “Legion” Marching Band) and Director of the NSU Jazz Ensembles. A frequent guest with the VSO, Saunders’ rendition of Duke Ellington’s Three Black Kings, Part 3: “Martin Luther King” is a crowd favorite.

A native of Newport News currently with the New World Symphony in Miami, Brendon Elliott received his bachelor’s degree from The Curtis Institute of Music, studying with Pamela Frank and the late Joseph Silverstein. He completed his master’s degree at The Juilliard School under Sylvia Rosenberg and Ronald Copes. He began playing under his mother’s tutelage at the age of three and made his solo debut when he was 10, performing a concerto with the Hampton University Orchestra. Since then, he has soloed with the New York Philharmonic, Sphinx Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra St. Luke’s and Chineke! Orchestra.

The concert has been presented by the VSO since January 2012 through its Education and Community Engagement Department whose Director was Dr. Marsha D. Staples until July 2015.

Dr. Staples has continued to produce the concert after her retirement from the VSO in 2015 through the Heritage Arts division of True Good Companies, a non-profit organization she founded in 1999.  Heritage Arts administers, designs and produces visual and performing arts events through networking with community and arts organizations.

This concert is part of the VSO’s Harmony Project collaboration with 11 historically black churches throughout Hampton Roads, which also provides VSO musicians to perform during worship services, Family Night events, and education programs for church youth programs and schools. Current partner churches are First Baptist South Hill in Chesapeake, Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Temple in Hampton, St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Portsmouth, East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Union Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, First Baptist Church Denbigh and Carver Memorial Presbyterian Church in Newport News, and First Baptist Church Bute Street, Second Calvary Baptist Church, Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church and Calvary Revival Church in Norfolk.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 31, 2019

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