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Upcoming Virginia Symphony Orchestra season puts new, but familiar faces up front

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Posted at 8:54 AM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 18:08:32-04

NORFOLK, Va. - He's the Principal Conductor for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in California, works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and teaches at Indiana University.

But it's the Principal Guest Conductor gig with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra that has Thomas Wilkins returning to where it all began.

"A little surreal but poetic all at the same time," said Wilkins, who grew up in what's now Young Terrace public housing complex.

Wilkins tells News 3 he could see the Arena Theater, now part of the Harrison Opera House, from his house. At the time, the theater was the home of the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, now the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

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Thomas Wilkins

"Went in there and there was this thing called an orchestra spread out on the floor, this man comes out, he points to this guy playing snare drum," Wilkins recalled to News 3 of a field trip he took when he was eight years old. "I thought, 'That's what I want to do.'"

Decades later, he'll be leading the same orchestra as conductor of a series of performances in Feburary.

News 3 caught up with Wilkins in Downtown Norfolk when he met the orchestra's new Music Director, Eric Jacobsen, for lunch. Jacobsen, who first conducted the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 2018, won the job following a March performance featuring masked, socially-distant musicians on stage.

"Everyone rose to the occasion and it felt like it was meant to be."

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Branford Marsalis (L) and Eric Jacobsen (R)

Jacobsen, who will make his debut in December conducting a series of concerts featuring renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis, says he hopes to shake things up a bit.

"I hope that every concert that we do, going forward, has something that will captivate everyone. There's something for everyone, but I really hope that there's also a little bit of the unknown in every concert," the New York-native told News 3. "I feel that's an important thing to do, which is to grow the vocabulary of a community, of music, of art and we'll do that all together."

Two men, two different backgrounds, one goal of bringing music to Hampton Roads.

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Commonwealth’s preeminent professional symphony orchestra, will appear live in concert on Sunday, July 25, at 8pm for a free evening performance at Town Point Park along the Downtown Norfolk Waterfront.

Click here for more information on that show and others to come.