by John Shulson

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s Williamsburg season was a two-hitter special in that it introduced to us the VSO’s new assistant conductor, Gonzalo Farias, and, although it was changed this past spring, somewhat officially the new name of the former Virginia Symphony Society of Greater Williamsburg, now the Virginia Symphony Society.

While the name change is one thing, the mission remains the same: to support the VSO and help bring a closer relationship between the orchestra and the Williamsburg community and its enhanced cultural environment, as well as to further its impact on musical education and mentoring brought to local schools by VSO musicians.

These sentiments were among those expressed in pre-concert comments by VSS President Sarah Ortego, who went on to explain that the organization offers social gatherings such as special event parties, dinner concerts and an annual spring gala, some of which are fundraising events. Such events allowed Ortego and VSS founder Bert Aaron to present Elizabeth Baroody, VSO vice president of development, a check for $42,000 to be used in support of VSO programs.

The event proceeded to be a festive one with an all Latin flair program in the Crosswalk Community Church, Saturday. Chilean-born Farias got things off to a pleasant start with Chilean-born Enrique Soro’s “Tres Aires Chilenos.” Ranging from lilting and meditative to expansive sound scapes and dance-like rhythms, “Tres Aires” provided a quite agreeable introduction to both Farias and Soro.

As for Argentinean Astor Piazzolla, his tango-inspired works are highly engaging, the sort that make it hard to keep your feet in place. While his works have a surface appeal, beneath that surface rests often complex compositional elements that blend the likes of baroque and jazz styles. His “Las Cuatro Estociones Portenas (‘Four Seasons of Buenos Aires‘)” is a nod to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, snippets of which are heard throughout the work. It’s an intimate piece written for reduced string orchestra and solo violin, here played to positive virtuoso impact by concertmaster Vahn Armstrong.

Representing Spain was Manuel de Falla and his “Three Cornered Hat, Suite No. 1.” Commissioned by Diaghilev for Massine’s ballet of the same name, this Spanish-inspired work is based on folk songs. The suite’s series of dances are bold, bright and rhythmically infectious — a rich swirl of inviting, colorful sounds.

Closing the program was Alberto Ginastera’s “Variaciones Concertantes.” Starting with a prolonged and rather mournful cello solo, “Variaciones” evolves into a work of diverse variations, rhythms, moods and sounds, designed to evoke an Argentinean flavor. Its many segments feature different instruments in solo-like spotlights. While much of it is somewhat pensive, the finale variation ends the work in a flurry of high energy.

As an encore and, as stated by Farias, a nod to America spirit and an homage to Latin American immigrants, the VSO offered Bernstein’s spirited Overture to “West Side Story.” It brought the audience to its feet in collective praise.

Throughout the fare, the VSO performed its usual top notch best, musically responsive to Farias who is not one of those conductors who seems to think it’s all about them. He’s slightly subdued and decidedly not showy, rightly allowing the music to stay front and center. With a lyrical, almost Zen-like quality, the amiable Farias established him as a focused, musical artist who knows what he wants and how to get it — with grace and style and substance. He’s a welcomed addition to the VSO family and its audience.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman’s “Murder at the Opera.”