NC Symphony Re-imagines 2020/21 Season and Expands Virtual Music Education Offerings

The Music Will Play On

Innovating to keep the music playing for all North Carolinians amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina Symphony announces its re-imagined 2020/21 season, which will open with a virtually streamed performance on Saturday, September 26. As North Carolina’s state orchestra, music education remains central to the Symphony’s mission—and NCS will expand on its virtual education programs launched earlier this year while introducing new initiatives through which the Symphony’s musicians will engage with North Carolina educators, students, and community members.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the community, the State of North Carolina, and its corporate and foundation supporters, NCS has kept its musicians employed and ready to return to performing concerts—and is proud to remain the largest employer of performing artists in North Carolina. Guided by its Boards of Trustees, NCS took necessary steps to shore up its finances, reducing salaries of staff and musicians and scaling down operations expenses in preparation for its return to the stage.

“The financial impact of canceled and postponed concerts since March is significant, but with the help of our community of North Carolina Symphony supporters, our mission of music education, statewide service, and artistic excellence will continue,” says NCS President & CEO Sandi Macdonald. “The music will play on—and we are looking forward so much to beginning this historic concert season, returning once again to performing for North Carolinians.”

Beginning on Opening Night, September 26, NCS will offer high-quality virtual concerts, recorded live at Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and streamed to homes. In March—provided that health guidelines set by Governor Cooper and the Department of Health and Human Services allow it to be safely possible—the Symphony looks forward to welcoming audiences back to the concert hall for in-person performances with necessary health protocols in place. Concerts will also continue to be streamed through the end of the season for those who prefer to enjoy the performances from their homes.

Committed to artistic excellence and putting health and safety first, the Symphony has updated its previously announced 2020/21 programs to feature repertoire that enables musicians to practice social distancing. With small ensembles beginning in September, and moving to larger ensembles as the season progresses, the new 2020/21 season shines a bright light on the artistry of NCS musicians like never before—and each program is curated with artistic collaborators who are well-known and loved by the Symphony’s audiences. Both classical and pops lovers will find familiar faces and favorite music.

Opening Night is curated by Grant Llewellyn—now Music Director Laureate—who will share his artistic vision and insights on the program. Repertoire for this debut digital performance ranges from Mozart’s elegant and ever-popular Eine kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”) performed by a string quintet, to Table Music by Thierry De Mey—a striking piece for three percussionists who perform on tabletops using only their hands.

The fall season continues with unique opportunities for audiences to experience NCS musicians in collaborative performances with world-renowned artists. Pianist Natasha Paremski and cellist Zuill Bailey team up for two programs—the first featuring Schubert’s sunny “Trout” Quintet, and the second offering intensely passionate music by Rachmaninoff, his Cello Sonata and Trio élegiaque No. 1. World famous saxophonist Branford Marsalis joins as NCS evokes the roaring ’20s with music by Gershwin, and North Carolina band the Kruger Brothers will bring their trademark fusion of bluegrass and classical. James Ehnes, “a violinist in a class of his own,” will perform alongside six NCS musicians in the Beethoven Septet—launching the Symphony’s LVB250 festival, a celebration of 250 years of Ludwig van Beethoven with powerful programs that illuminate his genius.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and North Carolina native Caroline Shaw hosts a program featuring works by American greats including Barber and Bernstein, along with her own string quartet Valencia and works by fellow female American composers Jessie Montgomery and Valerie Coleman. This continues the Symphony’s longtime commitment to the music of women composers; also featured during the 2020/21 season are Joan Tower, Hilary Purrington, Fanny Mendelssohn, and additional works by Shaw and Montgomery.

As always, the Symphony will perform festive music to ring in holiday celebrations; the virtual Holiday Pops offers classic carols and uplifting seasonal selections performed by brass and organ. At the beginning of 2021, NCS offers creatively themed programs: violinist Simone Porter, who has made recent debuts with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, joins for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on an all-Baroque concert; a Valentine’s weekend program combines beloved romantic music with fiery tangos by Piazzolla; and Timothy Myers, former Artistic and Music Director of North Carolina Opera, leads some of the most well-known overtures in the repertoire. NCS musicians’ personal favorites will come to the forefront in a “Musicians’ Choice” program spotlighting their virtuosity.

In-person concerts are planned to begin in March; audiences will continue to have the option to enjoy these performances virtually. Guest conductors including Andrew Grams and Ruth Reinhardt will return to the podium to lead the orchestra in masterworks such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto with Aaron Diehl, a jazz pianist who has made a successful crossover into the classical realm. Audiences of all ages will enjoy swing and blues with trumpeter extraordinaire Byron Stripling, favorites from the ragtime kings Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton, and the popular Cirque de la Symphonie show—bringing the dazzling feats of acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, and strongmen to the stage with the orchestra. Continuing the celebration of Beethoven’s legacy, the LVB250 festival’s three spring programs include the Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Augustin Hadelich and conducted by Grant Llewellyn in his much-anticipated return as Music Director Laureate; the triumphant Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”; and the incomparable Symphony No. 5 to conclude the season.

While staging concerts of the highest artistic quality, both in-person and virtually, the Symphony will also carry out its commitment as a leader in music education. Since the beginning of the pandemic, NCS has supported North Carolina’s teachers, students, and parents through the new challenge of at-home learning, quickly pivoting in March to an online format for its elementary Education Concert and curriculum-aligned lesson plans. This was soon followed by videos introducing students to instruments and ensemble work, as well as live interactive online programs for preschoolers and for advancing student instrumentalists. Altogether, the Symphony’s virtual performances and online education resources and activities have been accessed nearly 120,000 times, across North Carolina and even worldwide.

“The North Carolina Symphony is building a community of creatively engaged citizens, who experience and approach the world through the lens of innovation, artistry, and culture,” explains Macdonald. “In challenging times, connectivity through art becomes ever more important.”

To this end, NCS is proud to announce a new initiative called One State, One Score—through which Beethoven’s inspiring “Ode to Joy” from the Symphony No. 9 will be arranged for many different instruments, instrument combinations, vocal parts, skill levels, and even languages. The scores will be accessible to all North Carolinians and the Symphony will invite the submission of video recordings of the music, to be compiled into a final video for the public. The project aims to bring people of diverse backgrounds together, albeit virtually, in a collective arts experience.

For K-12 students, NCS will introduce its new Adopt-a-School program, pairing individual NCS musicians with a school and teacher for the 2020/21 school year. Musicians will serve as a resource for educators and each musician’s relationship with his or her adopted school will be unique, with activities and projects jointly developed to meet the needs and goals of the teacher and students. All K-12 schools in North Carolina are invited to participate; applications will be available at in the coming weeks.

The Symphony will also build and expand on its many virtual education programs introduced over the past several months. NCS is working with North Carolina teachers on the development of new cross-curricular lesson plans to coordinate with the virtual Education Concert—specifically created for this time of virtual learning—and an online teacher workshop to introduce these lessons will be held in October; virtual Music Discovery programs held over Zoom for preschool students and their families are planned in partnership with libraries across the state; a series of Tune-Up! Workshops for middle schoolers and high schoolers, focusing on preparation for Regional Orchestra auditions, is being scheduled; and Meet the Instruments!, Ensembles in the HOME Schools, and other educational videos will continue to be released.

For more information on the 2020/21 season, visit

To view the Symphony’s library of virtual resources, visit

To make a gift to support the Symphony’s 2020/21 season and continued mission of music education, artistic excellence, and statewide service, visit

By Meredith Kimball Lang, Director of Communications, North Carolina Symphony