Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Richmond Rave: Richmond Symphony

I've already alluded to my status as a BNFL (Band Nerd For Life) in a few previous entries. So much so that I was a music performance major in college. Once I figured out that I'd rather not  spend the rest of my life as a starving musician, I got a Master's in Arts Management and have worked for two different orchestras since then. One was the National Philharmonic, which makes its home at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland. I love this organization, but can't write a Richmond Rave about it since it is obviously not in Richmond.

But I can write a Richmond Rave about the Richmond Symphony. If I haven't said it yet on this blog, I'm saying it now: Richmonders are downright lucky to have access to some absolutely phenomenal arts right in their own backyards. Personally, I thank my lucky stars every day that I managed to accidentally end up in a city with such vibrant cultural resources.

Richmond Symphony is just one of these fabulous organizations.

RSO in action at the Carpenter Theatre.
Now, yes I am a bit biased for a number of reasons. One: BNFL. Two: I had the privilege of working for the Richmond Symphony for some very exciting years in the organization's history. But, setting aside these facts, I submit that the Richmond Symphony has earned its spot on my Richmond Rave list ten times over.

I could bore you forever with a long diatribe about why the Richmond Symphony is so cool. But I won't. Instead, I present my top reasons to go give classical music a try (specifically, the RSO).

1. They perform in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage. If you haven't seen the Carpenter Theatre (ever or since it was restored), it is worth going just to see this building. Once upon a time, the Carpenter was a Loew's Movie Palace and was designed to transport the audience to a Mediterranean Palace. From the crazy carpet to the stuffed parrots to the twinkling stars in the ceiling of the hall, it's something to behold.

Exterior of Carpenter Theatre at night

Two goofy pictures of me showcasing the crazy carpet and tiled entry floor.

2. There are lots of options to choose from when it comes to concerts. The upcoming 2012-13 season is particularly awesome (at least I think so because it contains both my favorite violin concerto of all time AND my favorite piano concerto of all time AND Beethoven's Pastorale AND the iconic Symphony No. 5 AND Scheherezade... ok I'll shut up now). If you're a first timer, you can't go wrong with Beethoven's 5th - everybody knows it. And if you're a Disney kid like me, you will immediately recognize Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony from Fantasia.

If full on classical repertoire is not something you want to dive in to, try a Pops concert. RSO also usually has a crazy good "special" each year. A few past specials have included Bugs Bunny on Broadway (Looney Toons cartoons broadcast on a big screen behind the orchestra, with live musical accompaniment), Video Games Live (Video game footage from Pong to World of Warcraft with live orchestra and light show), and Cirque de la Symphonie (acrobats, strongmen, and jugglers perform to live orchestral accompaniment). I drug my husband to each of these and he had a blast at all of them. This year, the special is probably the most awesome one yet - a tribute to Queen. Yes, this Queen:

It's on May 19. I can't go, but you should! I'll even make it easy for you - here's the link to purchase tickets!

3. The Richmond Symphony is a great ensemble with talented musicians. Richmond is lucky to have such a high-quality orchestra right here. I've heard lots of orchestras (including a lot of bad ones), so trust me on this one.

4. Since 2008, the Richmond Symphony has held an event they call the "Come & Play." Basically, if you have ever played an orchestral instrument, you are invited to come sit alongside Richmond Symphony musicians for a day of rehearsal and a concert. I was working for the Symphony during the first year and I will never forget how excited we all were when over 300 people showed up to the first event. It just gets bigger and bigger every year. In 2011, I played with the ensemble, which topped 600 musicians! The Richmond Symphony is for everyone, and this event is a great demonstration of that. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing hundreds of people from every walk of life and musical ability come together to create music.

5. Short attention span? Yeah, me too. I have a hard time sitting through a full symphony concert, and I'm a musician! But let me tell you a secret: The LolliPops series, which looks like it's for children, is a great option. Don't tell anyone, but I think it's my favorite series. The concerts are always entertaining, energetic, fun and on the short side. And a bonus? The tickets are cheap - only $17 for adults.

6. Let me guess: you don't think you're "fancy" enough to go the Symphony. Or you think you don't have the right clothes or just don't feel like dressing up. Well, I have news for you - most symphonies don't have a dress code. This includes the Richmond Symphony. Sure, people will show up dressed to the 9s. But people also show up wearing jeans, myself included. In fact, I make it a point to often wear jeans to cultural events that people believe have an elitist dress code. I have worn jeans to the Richmond Symphony and to the Virginia Opera. Yes, to the opera. And it was fine. So please, feel free to come as you are. Really, the Symphony will just be happy to welcome you!

7. A symphony concert is a great date night - and a great excuse to try out an awesome downtown Richmond restaurant. Lemaire is close by. So is Bistro 27. And Comfort. And Tarrant's. And Hill Cafe. You get the point.

8. It won't break the bank. The great thing about a Richmond Symphony concert is that every seat in the house is a good seat. I have sat in the most expensive seats and in the cheapest seats and yes, while you can see better in the expensive seats, the sound quality is the same no matter where you sit. So buy the least expensive seats (for the current season, adult tickets start at $18), spend the leftover money on a nice dinner, and enjoy yourself.

9. Erin Freeman, the Symphony's Associate Conductor and James Erb Choral Chair, is an amazingly talented woman with infectious enthusiasm that you can't resist. I love watching her conduct and she has a naturally warm rapport with the audience that makes you feel at home.

10. If you don't go, I will send zombie musicians to hunt you down.


  1. I've wanted to go to the Carpenter theater since it opened after being fixed up!

    Oh and congrats on your 5k PR from the other week, that's huge! I hope we get to run together at the mon/wed group sometime soon :) I'm heading to california, so prob in a couple weeks after I get back.

    1. I'm happy to advise or drag you to a symphony concert if you're ever interested! =)

      I would love to see you on Mon/Wed sometime soon. Have fun in Cali!