Virginia Symphony Orchestra: Celebrating 100 Years

Music has a way of bringing people together. A song can give people a way to connect with their emotions and escape from the stress of everyday life. Even in a world that sometimes seems divided, people often come together to enjoy “good” music. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra (VSO) has united locals and tourists through music for the past 100 years. Despite facing challenges during the pandemic, the VSO has continued its mission to “inspire…educate…and connect audiences of all ages.”

The VSO was originally established in 1920 under the name “Norfolk Civic Symphony Orchestra,” and it performed its first concert in 1921. At that time, it was “the only American orchestra between Baltimore and Atlanta.” The Norfolk Civic Symphony Orchestra eventually merged with the Civic Chorus and other local ensembles. In 1990, musical conductor and composer Don McCullough established the Virginia Symphony Chorus, and the orchestra adopted the name “Virginia Symphony Orchestra.” 

The current musical director of the VSO is Eric Jacobsen. Jacobsen was also the musical director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Knights, a chamber orchestra in New York City. The principal guest conductor of the VSO is Thomas Wilkins, who was also the principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. These great leaders instruct about eighty string, wind, and percussion musicians from around Hampton Roads when the VSO preforms.

The VSO often performs at the Sandler Center (Virginia Beach), Chrysler Hall (Virginia Beach), and the Ferguson Center for the Arts (Newport News). The VSO usually performs classical music, but it has also performed pop, jazz, rock, Broadway, and contemporary film music. Over the years, VSO has also engaged in community projects. Since 1921, musicians from the VSO have visited local schools and provided lessons to more than 45,000 students. Between 2006 and 2007, VSO musicians performed at churches and supported worship services. During the 2017-2018 season, the VSO presented a side-by-side concert at Old Dominion University and several guest performances at Regent University.

In January 2020, the VSO began the “Vision Forward” fundraising campaign. At the time, the VSO was in the middle of its 2019-2020 season, which was supposed to end in the following spring. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the pandemic forced the VSO to cancel or postpone many of their events; for about a year, the VSO stopped announcing new performances. However, even during the pandemic, the VSO sought to continue its mission. In January 2021, the VSO live-streamed its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day performance. The VSO started having live performances again on February 26, but it is still raising money to continue its mission.

Ticket prices for VSO concerts usually range from $25 to $81 per person, but during the past few months, the VSO has presented free performances at parks and beaches. The next free performance will occur on Thursday, September 30, at the Oceanfront. For a full list of upcoming concert events, click here.


Maylene Dio

Maylene Dio is a staff writer for The Daily Runner.