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UVa faculty take up conductor's baton at upcoming Academic Festival

The final concerts of the Charlottesville Symphony at the University of Virginia’s season will give composers and guest artists from the UVa Department of Music some time to shine.

The “Academic Festival” program, set for 7:30 p.m. April 20 in Cabell Hall Auditorium in Old Cabell Hall and 3:30 p.m. April 21 at Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center at Charlottesville High School, will include performances of Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to ‘West Side Story’” and Maurice Ravel’s perennially popular “Boléro,” for which music director Benjamin Rous has created an arrangement specifically for the combination of guests. The rest of the program is all about the diverse composers from the UVa community, and Rous said symphony members are embracing the opportunity to branch out in terms of genres and styles.

“This is a bunch of different styles that we don’t normally get to play,” Rous told The Daily Progress. “I can say that I know it’s fun for me. For the audience, they’ll get to see how a symphony orchestra can be.”

Compositions by UVa faculty members are giving the musicians room to explore jazz, African rhythms, moments in American history and the majesty of glaciers.

Flutist Nicole Mitchell will be the soloist for her own “Flight for Freedom for Creative Flute and Orchestra.” Mitchell’s composition honors the courage of Harriet Tubman.

John D’earth, a trumpeter, bandleader, composer and arranger who leads the UVa Jazz Ensemble, will be performing his “Concerto for Quintet and Orchestra” as a member of the Free Bridge Quintet. The popular jazz faculty quintet includes D’earth on trumpet, Jeff Decker on saxophone, Peter Spaar on bass, Calvin Brown on piano and Robert Jospé on drums.

Composer Matthew Burtner’s “Threnody (Sikuigvik) for orchestra and glacier ecoacoustics” will be performed along with a video created from images Burtner took inside the glacier.

“It’s the first time the university symphony has played his music,” Rous said, adding that the first rehearsal with Burtner present was a memorable event for the professor and the performers alike.

“He was over the moon,” Rous said of Burtner, who has taught at UVa for 18 years. “That was an incredible moment.”

JoVia Armstrong will play solos on bongos and on cajon, an African percussion instrument, during her orchestra arrangements of three songs from her “Inception” album from 2023: “Creation,” “Embryo” and “Birth.”

And although the Charlottesville concerts on April 20 and 21 will be bringing the symphony’s current season to a close, there’s one more performance in store. That’s because “Academic Festival” was created to help celebrate UVa’s new Northern Virginia campus.

“For once, this idea actually came from outside,” Rous said. He said the concert idea came to life when Gregory Fairchild, dean of the new location, approached Jody Kielbasa, who is UVa’s vice provost for the arts, “to create buzz around UVa’s new Northern Virginia location” in Tysons.

“Academic Festival” will be performed a third time at 3 p.m. April 28 at Capital One Hall in Tysons, a new concert venue featuring what Rous calls “great acoustics.”

The Tysons concert is the most recent event taking the Charlottesville Symphony at UVa out of its comfort zone on away from UVa Grounds. In December, the symphony joined Charlottesville Ballet for four performances of “The Nutcracker” in Lynchburg.


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