In a year unlike any other, the North Carolina Symphony kept the music playing, and in the 2021-2022 season, the music will continue to play on — now, in person.

Audiences will again fill the seats at concert halls around the state, welcomed back with a season featuring the extraordinary musicians of the symphony taking the stage with renowned guest artists and conductors, performing beloved works that have stood the test of time and music that reflects the diverse voices of our world, and once again creating the full, rich sound that is unique to an orchestra of exceptionally talented artists. 

“There is an energy and connection between performers and audience members in a live concert that is simply irreplaceable,” says NCS President and CEO Sandi Macdonald. “With great excitement, we have worked toward our return to in-person concerts — toward this season in which we will be together again with the citizens of North Carolina — and I know that the joy and the dedication to artistry that our musicians will bring to this homecoming will be unmatched.”

The symphony’s streaming concerts in the 2020-2021 season were widely praised for their exceptional quality and were enjoyed with gratitude by many NCS fans in North Carolina and beyond; in the upcoming season, NCS will continue to stream select concerts.

New Season

The new season reflects the symphony’s ongoing commitment to diversity, both in the performers appearing with the orchestra and with works representing a diverse range of artistic voices — from the season opener featuring William Grant Still’s “Danzas de Panama” paired with Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, to Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9” paired with Mendelssohn and Brahms, to William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” paired with Gershwin’s “Piano Concerto in F.” Outstanding Black women composers of yesterday and today are represented with Mary Lou Williams’ “Zodiac Suite” and Jessie Montgomery’s “Records from a Vanishing City.” 

NCS begins a season-long partnership with composer Anthony Kelley, associate professor of the practice of music at Duke University. Kelley will create a new work planned to premiere in June 2022 with free performances throughout North Carolina — including Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre — as part of Juneteenth celebrations. The project is supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Grants for Arts Project award and is made possible in partnership with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. In addition, another work by Kelley, “Crosscurrents,” will appear on the Classical Series (on a program also featuring Rachmaninoff and Arvo Pärt) and his “Fanfares and Themes of Unity” will be included on the 2021-2022 NCS Education Concert. Throughout the year, Kelley will participate in community programs such as composition workshops and other education activities that connect citizens of North Carolina with the symphony.

Female composers continue to be strongly represented in the symphony’s programming, building on a commitment that began in 2009. Works by women have appeared on NCS programs each year since then — and in the coming season, in addition to music by Jessie Montgomery, the symphony has championed works by women, including Jennifer Higdon’s “Percussion Concerto,” performed by Colin Currie, a string orchestra work titled “Entr’acte,” by North Carolina native and 2020 Grammy Award-winner Caroline Shaw, and “Song of the Enchanter,” by Scottish composer Thea Musgrave. Women will also take the podium, with a return performance by German conductor Ruth Reinhardt and the NCS debut of 22-year-old English conductor Stephanie Childress.

Guest Artists

The symphony makes its return to the Meymandi Concert Hall stage with some of the world’s finest guest artists. James Ehnes, one of the most sought-after violinists internationally, will perform Brahms’ “Violin Concerto” — a work seen by Brahms as a true test of a player’s virtuosity and musicianship; pianist Conrad Tao, considered a leading artist in the new generation of classical musicians, offers Beethoven’s sumptuous “Emperor” Concerto; audience favorite Joélle Harvey joins to sing the elegant soprano solo in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4; and pianist Aaron Diehl appears on two programs, bringing his signature jazz-infused style to Gershwin’s “Piano Concerto in F” as well as the work Diehl has helped to revive in recent years — Mary Lou Williams’ “Zodiac Suite.” Williams, known as the “First Lady of Jazz,” was an African American pianist and composer who served as an artist-in-residence at Duke University from 1977 until her death in 1981.

Symphony Musicians

The artistry of the symphony’s own musicians will be featured front-and-center stage in two programs: Associate Concertmaster Dovid Friedlander and Principal Cello Bonnie Thron will be soloists in the masterful Beethoven “Triple Concerto,” joined by their frequent collaborator, pianist Solomon Eichner; and Assistant Concertmaster Karen Strittmatter Galvin and Principal Second Violin Jacqueline Saed Wolborsky will perform the hauntingly beautiful “Tabula rasa,” by Arvo Pärt, on a program also featuring Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 2.”

Young Artists

NCS will bring to North Carolina young artists who have quickly made names for themselves on the classical stage. Pianist George Li, praised by The New York Times for a style that combines “youthful abandon with utter command,” will be perfectly matched with Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini on Opening Night.” With an “exquisite tone and sheer virtuosity” (The New York Times), Randall Goosby will share Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5” on an all-Mozart program. NCS audiences will hear a violinist who is “on the cusp of a major career” with her “lovingly lyrical, occasionally frisky playing,” when Simone Porter joins for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Llewellyn Returns

Grant Llewellyn will make his much-anticipated return to North Carolina in his new role as music director laureate. Having completed his tenure as music director in 2020 — and entering his 18th season with NCS — Llewellyn will return twice during the season to conduct the symphony musicians with whom he shares a unique musical bond.

He will share the stage with soprano superstar Renee Fleming and will display his skill as an interpreter of choral repertoire in the unparalleled Beethoven “Symphony No. 9,” performed with the North Carolina Master Chorale. Both programs were previously postponed due to the pandemic, and will mark Llewellyn’s first appearances with the symphony since recovering from a stroke in 2020.

Guest Conductors 

NCS will see the returns of guest conductors who have been audience and musician favorites in recent years. Carlos Miguel Prieto, who begins his tenure as NCS artistic adviser in the coming season, will lead the orchestra in two programs, including Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” symphony and Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4”; Joshua Gersen conducts Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”; Ruth Reinhardt takes the podium for Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”; and Douglas Boyd leads a program including Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2” and Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto,” with the charismatic and compelling violinist Chee-Yun.

Pops Season

With timeless music from a variety of genres, the pops season is expected to draw new audiences to the symphony while showcasing the orchestra’s vast musical range. NCS musicians will deliver tribute performances to the iconic music of Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Pat Benatar and other women who forever changed rock and roll; Motown sensations like The Temptations and Stevie Wonder; and ABBA.

Broadway voices will join the symphony for beloved show tunes from “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” On opening night for the pops season, the symphony celebrates John Williams’ epic movie scores with music from “Harry Potter,” “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park” and of course, “Star Wars.” Continuing its longstanding tradition of bringing its community together through music at the holidays, the symphony will be the starting point for memories with friends and family, thanks to the heart-warming annual holiday pops concert.

Education Program

In partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the symphony’s extensive education program engages students of all ages across North Carolina — in the 2020-2021 school year, 100,000 learners in total through in-person and digital programs. The symphony will continue to offer a mix of in-person and online (both synchronous and asynchronous) programs in the coming year. For fourth- and fifth-graders around the state, NCS will release a new virtual Education Concert — teaching core musical concepts such as tempo, rhythm, and dynamics, in alignment with the state curriculum—featuring a range of musical cultures with selections by American composers of diverse backgrounds including Jessie Montgomery, Anthony Kelley, Carlos Simon, and Scott Joplin, Mexican composer Arturo Márquez, and more.

The symphony has already begun to resume in-person education activities and, in alignment with current health and safety guidelines, will continue to do so throughout the coming season — including an in-person teacher workshop in October, which each year provides training and resources for statewide educators; Ensembles in the Schools, which brings chamber groups into classrooms; PNC “Grow Up Great” Music Discovery, which combines music with storytelling for preschool students; Tune-Up Workshops, through which advancing instrumentalists are coached by NCS musicians; and, ultimately, a return to in-person education concerts. Additionally, during the past season, NCS launched a new initiative, Adopt-a-School — pairing symphony musicians with schools and teachers around the state to support students and classroom goals. The impact of this program has been extremely valued by teachers and it is planned to become a staple of the NCS education program.

Young People’s Concerts   

Young People’s Concerts for families will also resume in-person performances, with programming to be announced over the summer. Joining the symphony’s artistic leadership team to conduct education concerts, Young People’s Concerts, and other performances, is Michelle Di Russo, who has been named NCS assistant conductor. Di Russo recently earned her doctoral degree in orchestral conducting from Arizona State University and is the recipient of the 2020 American Austrian Foundation/Faber Young Conductors Fellowship. Wesley Schulz, after nearly four years as associate conductor, conclude his tenure at the end of the 2020/21 season.

Concerts in Community

Other important initiatives expanding access to classical music and increasing the symphony’s presence in the community include the free Concerts in Your Community series presented in outdoor settings throughout the state each summer as well as chamber music concerts to be announced. The Young Professionals of the Symphony program will return with in-person events, inviting those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s to the symphony for mainstage concerts and after-parties, in addition to presenting free chamber music concerts at popular downtown Raleigh locations. Dates and details for these programs will be announced throughout the season.

The symphony’s concert seasons in Chapel Hill, Wilmington, New Bern, Southern Pines, and Fayetteville will offer many of the programs performed in Raleigh, as well as programs and guest artists heard only in those communities. 2021-2022 programs for series across the state will be announced at a later date.

For information, visit www.ncsymphony.org, call (919) 733-2750 or visit the NCS headquarters at 3700 Glenwood Ave., Suite 130, Raleigh.

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