‘Symphony Under the Stars’ a start to the season

August 26, 2016

Beneath the relaxed atmosphere of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony Under the Stars” outdoor concerts lies an air of excitement and anticipation.

They’re the first concerts of the season.

“The orchestra is excited to be back together and playing again,” said resident conductor Benjamin Rous.

With free performances Sept. 1 at Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre and Sept. 3 at Riverwalk Landing, the “Symphony Under the Stars” series kicks off a Williamsburg Classics season with much in store.

This year, outdoor performances follow a maritime theme, inspired by “the geography and coastline of our area,” Rous said.

“Symphony Under the Stars” selections include John Williams‘ Suite from “Jaws” and John Philip Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea.”

The program even features a piece from local composer James Hosay: “Rivers of the Chesapeake: The Elizabeth.”

“We kind of just wanted to put together great music that also has some significance for people around here,” Rous said.

For musicians, the outdoor concerts are “a nice way to ease into the season,” said Michael Daniels, the symphony’s principal cellist.

For audiences, the concerts serve as enticement for the season ahead. And there’s much to look forward to.

The symphony’s Williamsburg Classics Season includes four concerts, beginning Oct. 27 at Crosswalk Community Church.

“Each program is pretty different from the others,” said Rous, who conducts all but one. “There’s a lot of variety.”

In fact, the one concert Rous doesn’t conduct is led by Danny Matsukawa, principal bassoonist at the Philadelphia Orchestra and a former member of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Matsukawa will both conduct and solo during Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto.

“The first program is completely unique,” Rous said. “You never have a bassoonist conductor.”

The first program also includes Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 5 and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, while the season’s second program presents the annual Holiday Brass performance in time for the holiday season.

For the last two programs, the symphony transports audiences abroad.

“Intrigue and Idyll” includes two Mozart pieces: Overture to “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major.

Both pieces, Rous said, include references to Turkish music. He said that Austrians at the time were both intrigued and frightened by Turkey, an enemy country.

“This is a product of that mentality,” he said.

The season’s final program features music related to the British Isles, such as Arnold’s “Tam O’Shanter” Overture and Britten’s “Suite on English Folk Tunes.”

Rous is most excited for the least expected part of the program: Beethoven’s “Irish Songs,” arranged by Rous for the symphony to play with a tenor soloist.

“If you asked literally 100 professional musicians, ‘Did Beethoven write any music with an English text?’, 99 of them would say no,” Rous said.

Even Daniels admitted he had never heard of these Irish songs.

“There’s all this stuff that (Beethoven) did that just about nobody ever heard or ever plays,” Rous said.

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

Symphony Under the Stars

7:30 p.m., Sept. 1 at Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre, Williamsburg
7:30 p.m., Sept. 3 at Riverwalk Landing, Yorktown

Williamsburg Classics

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 – 8 p.m., Oct. 27 at Crosswalk Community Church
Holiday Brass – 8 p.m., Dec. 15 at Phi Beta Kappa Hall
Intrigue and Idyll – 8 p.m., Feb. 23 at Crosswalk Community Church
Roots: the British Isles – 8 p.m., March 9 at Phi Beta Kappa Hall

Tickets available at 757-892-6366 or virginiasymphony.org.