The Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season has been celebrating 25 years with conductor JoAnn Falletta with an impressive array of guest artists, including world renowned (but Virginia local) Zuill Bailey. Bailey has an impressive resume, including a Masters degree from the Juilliard School and a number one album on the Classical Billboard Charts (Britten Cello Symphony/Sonata). But his credentials and impressive technical mastery of the cello fall away and are easily overlooked in the shadow of his pure passion and intensity while performing. It was nothing short of mesmerizing watching him–his fingers flying across the cello, his face enraptured by the music, and the occasional flip of his long hair sending ladies in the audience practically swooning. Here is a clip of him playing, from WQXR:
While VSO billed the show as Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the true highlight and surprise was the Virginia premiere of a new piece, “Tales of Hemingway for Cello and Orchestra” by composer Michael Daugherty. Just finished this year, the Tales of Hemingway consisted of five movements inspired by different works of the author Ernest Hemingway. I’ll concede that my previous experiences with Hemingway pretty much just consist of using the phrase “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in a macabre manner and petting his famed 6-toed cats in Key West, but after hearing the VSO performance, especially the vibrant bull fighting music, I’m enticed to download some of his stories while playing a Zuill Bailey cd in the background.
Another unexpected treat was actually having the composer at the performance. It’s always inspiring to hear an artist speak about his visions and inspirations and to learn how a piece came to life. It also highlights what is part of the charm of the VSO–you never know what will happen at a performance. I’ve been going to the VSO for over a decade and it seems like there’s always some unexpected little twist to make the performance even more memorable.
When I was first approached about attending this performance, I was hesitant. Don’t get me wrong, the VSO is phenomenal and I always have a wonderful time, but this performance was the day after a packed Halloween weekend. But, I dutifully roused myself from my fun-sized-Snicker induced coma, spent far too long trying to get all my costume makeup and glitter off, and headed to the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach… and I’m so glad I did.
The whole experience is always wonderful: getting dressed up, going to the theatre, watching the musicians set up. But I think my favorite part is watching people, who like me this weekend, came to the symphony hesitantly, but was blown away once we got there. I saw more than one boyfriend who looked like he may have been dragged there against his will, who at intermission, was enthusiastically waiting in line to meet cellist Bailey. Thanks to $10 student tickets, I witness several kids attending with their moms. Soon tablets were put away, fidgiting stopped, and the kids seemed intrigued by the performances. Ricard Nickel, the artist who attended the performance with me, enthusiastically talked about how alive the music was, so much different than he expected.
As a classical music enthusiast, I think sometimes there’s a perception about the types of people who go to the symphony. When I first started going over a decade ago, I did feel like an outlier. Amidst a sea of gray hair and proper dresses my flaming red hair and fishnets stood out. But, that’s been steadily changing. This summer, I went to the VSO free Symphony By the Sea concerts at the Oceanfront, and was so encouraged by the diversity of people who stopped by.
The VSO is doing a great job of making classical music more accessible to everybody.
If you’ve been thinking about checking out a VSO performance, there’s really no time like the present! From traditional classical music, to Christmas concerts, Disney songs, or the music of Billy Joel, there’s bound to be a performance that will call to you. The VSO performance in various locations including Chrysler Hall in Norfolk and the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach. For more information, please gohere.