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BWW Previews: R.I. Phil Promises to 'Ease In' to 21-22 Season with Audience Favorites

Following a year of canceled and mostly virtual concerts, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra announced a 2021-22 season full of traditional classical blockbusters.

On the heels of perhaps its quietest season on record, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra feels ready and eager to welcome music-hungry crowds back to the VETS Auditorium for the 2021-22 season.

In a Friday, April 30, season announcement at the VETS, the orchestra's Artistic Advisor Bramwell Tovey and Executive Director David Beauchesne shared that the season's first few months will be well stocked with classical blockbusters - including Brahms' Symphony No. 4, Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony No. 6 and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.

"Our first concert will be, as it were, a toe in the water" for listeners who haven't been to a concert since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Tovey said. "This will be our way of gently easing our way back into business...with a program that's going to be inviting, a program that's going to welcome you back into the hall. We don't want to scare you with anything unduly."

The season lineup includes yet more audience favorites, from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" to Strauss's suite from "Der Rosenkavalier" to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and its famed "Ode to Joy." And as per tradition, the Providence Singers will join the full orchestra in December for a performance of Handel's "Messiah."

The orchestra will welcome back many soloists who were featured in the pared-down 2020-21 season, including star pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Beauchesne said many of the featured artists who came to Providence found themselves playing a different, more intimate piece than the one that had originally been planned - a necessity given that the full orchestra could not fit on stage while exercising recommended health and safety guidelines.

"They were so kind and flexible to work with us and to come under difficult conditions and to still perform for this audience here in Rhode Island," Beauchesne said. "In part out of gratitude to them for honoring their commitment to us and to this community...we thought we would bring them back this season. By and large, [they will be] performing the large-scale works we had postponed [last season]."

Parker, for example, will perform Gershwin's overture to "Strike Up the Band" as part of an American classics concert in April 2022. That concert also features a symphony by the long-overlooked African American composer Florence Price and the East Coast premiere of a piece by Gabriela Lena Frank, who has been hailed for breaking gender, disability and cultural barriers in classical composition.

Like many arts organizations, the Phil is stepping up its commitment to diversity this year by programming more music by a culturally diverse set of composers, featuring diverse performers in its concerts and continuing to invest in the musicians of the future by offering free or discounted lessons to children from historically underrepresented groups.

"This is an epoch-changing moment," Tovey said in reference to the past year's racial reckonings following police killings of Black Americans and violence against Asian Americans. "Our job is... to make sure that we bring the messages of as many diverse musicians and composers as we can to the people of Rhode Island and beyond. Our job is to give opportunity where we can and to invite people from different persuasions to contribute to how we think about an orchestra in the 21st century."

Unlike many other orchestras and music halls, the Phil and the VETS didn't go dark for the duration of the pandemic. The orchestra canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 performance season, including its summer pops lineup, in mid-March 2020, when former Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered all Rhode Islanders to shelter in place. A small group of musicians returned in September 2020 to present a pared-down concert of live-streamed chamber music from an empty auditorium. A month later, the orchestra opened up the VETS to an extremely limited number of in-person attendees, though most opted to stay home and continue tuning in to the Phil's livestreams.

"It's not exactly swarming with people in here, but we're making a start," Tovey said. "And the important thing is that we're hoping and planning and expecting to be fully onstage by the time September 18 rolls around."

Until then, Tovey said, classical lovers have the remainder of the virtual spring lineup to look forward to. "String Kingdom" on Saturday, May 1, features Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" and Elgar's "Introduction and Allegro." A chamber orchestra, along with soprano Laquita Mitchell, will tackle Mahler's Symphony No. 4 on May 15. An orchestra showcase of pieces by Debussy, Copland and Mendelssohn will shine a spotlight on the trumpet and English horn. And a June 12 gala with music by Beethoven brings the famous pianist Emanuel Ax to Providence, alongside the largest ensemble the VETS has seen in 14 months.

Tovey said the Phil also plans to push ahead with its traditional summer pops season, bringing free outdoor concerts to parks and beaches across the state. That lineup will be announced soon.

Tickets for the 2021-22 season will go on sale in May at

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From This Author Jill Kimball