RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina Symphony’s 2019/20 season will be a star-studded celebration of the extraordinary tenure of Grant Llewellyn, whose 16th season will be his final as NCS Music Director; Llewellyn becomes Music Director Laureate in 2020/21.

The 2019/20 season culminates Llewellyn’s defining accomplishments during his many years with the Symphony. Since 2004, he has developed NCS into the outstanding orchestra it is today, while embracing the Symphony’s dual legacies of statewide service and music education. Llewellyn has been instrumental in building partnerships with fellow community organizations to create unique live music experiences—both in and outside of the concert hall—and has consistently crafted forward-thinking programs that give voice to new art and bring vibrancy to repertoire staples.

“In my final season as Music Director of this great orchestra, it will be my privilege to hear the insights that our incredibly talented musicians will bring to our repertoire—which, in many cases, is repertoire that has been particularly meaningful to me through the years,” says Llewellyn. “In crafting this season’s programs and inviting our spectacular guest artists, it is my hope and belief that my favorites will be favorites for our audiences, as well.”

“The many exceptional soloists taking the stage with NCS and the monumental works programmed speak to the artistic caliber to which Grant has elevated NCS during his tenure,” says NCS President & CEO Sandi Macdonald. “This season celebrates Grant, but true to form, he has spun it into a season celebrating masterful repertoire, the artists who bring it to life, and the partners who support us in sharing great music with all of North Carolina.”

Llewellyn is especially thrilled for returns by guest soloists who have become close artistic collaborators during his tenure with the Symphony, including Renée Fleming and Branford Marsalis, joining for a Gala performance in May 2020; Stephen Hough (a friend of Llewellyn’s since childhood), who takes on the complexity and sheer magnitude of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2; James Ehnes, a two-time Grammy Award winner who brings his impeccable technique to the nonstop virtuosic spectacle of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1; and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who effortlessly melds jazz and impressionistic styles in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.

NCS will showcase the virtuosity of its own musicians, with the Symphony’s low-brass section taking center stage in Jennifer Higdon’s Low Brass Concerto and with Concertmaster Brian Reagin performing George Frederick McKay’s Violin Concerto (a work that Reagin recorded with the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in 2003).

Supporting the creation of new masterworks, NCS regularly programs music by some of the most acclaimed composers of our time. Works by women composers have appeared on programs each season since 2009/10—and, in fact the living composers represented on the 2019/20 Classical Season are exclusively women. In addition to the Higdon concerto, the Symphony co-commissions and gives one of the first performances of The Listeners, a new work for chorus and orchestra by North Carolina native and Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, composed as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. NCS presents Shaw’s work as part of She Changed the World, a statewide and year-long celebration of notable North Carolina women, past and present, led by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.  NCS also performs Salina Fisher’s Rainphase and Lera Auerbach’s Icarus—both of which were composed in recent years and have gained quick notoriety and popularity—and Julia Wolfe’s Big, Beautiful, Dark, and Scary, a response to the 9/11 attacks. The Symphony looks back to 19th- and 20th-century female composers, with works by Lili Boulanger, Louise Farrenc, Fanny Mendelssohn, Ethyl Smyth, and Grace Mary Williams. Works by women will also be featured on NCS Education Concerts.

Llewellyn builds the season to a dramatic close with his final two programs, putting the orchestra’s artistic excellence on full display with grand-scale statement pieces that changed the course of music history: The Symphony No. 9 of Beethoven (whose 250th birthday will be celebrated in 2020) and The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. Performed together with Debussy’s Jeux and Wagner’s Prelude from Parsifal, Llewellyn calls The Rite of Spring program “the most ambitious I will ever conduct,” and one he would only attempt with an orchestra he knows as well as NCS.

Other repertoire with particular personal significance to Llewellyn includes the season-opener’s “Enigma” Variations by Elgar, which was one of the first works he conducted with NCS; and Handel’s Messiah during the holiday season, which is by far the work he has conducted most frequently over the course of his career.

The Symphony will see the returns of guest conductors who have been audience and musician favorites, including Karina Canellakis (conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and works by Boulanger and Smyth) and Rune Bergmann (conducting Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, the Barber Violin Concerto, and a newly arranged suite of Charlie Chaplin songs featuring violinist Phillipe Quint). Renowned guest conductors throughout the Classical Season will balance new or rarely-heard works with beloved masterpieces—Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and many more—appealing to seasoned classical music lovers and newcomers alike.

Thoughtfully programmed for a wide range of ages and musical tastes, the Pops Season and Special Event Concerts are also expected to draw new audiences to the Symphony. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back will play on the big screen as NCS performs the John Williams score live; Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. takes the stage with jazz and Broadway favorites; and programs featuring hits from Elton John, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and the swing era all showcase the Symphony’s vast musical range. NCS has a longstanding tradition of bringing its community together through music at the holidays, and the 2019/20 season offers the family favorite Holiday Pops; Handel’s famous Messiah with the North Carolina Master Chorale; Cirque de Noel featuring high-flying acrobatics with festive holiday selections; and a New Year’s Eve concert that looks back to the Roaring ’20s to usher in 2020.

Each summer, thousands of North Carolinians gather for music under the stars at UNC REX Healthcare Summerfest concerts. Held at the Symphony’s summer home in Cary, Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Summerfest concerts offer classical masterworks and pops programs in a relaxed and family-friendly outdoor environment. Concertgoers spread out blankets, lawn chairs, and picnics, and enjoy the picturesque natural surroundings and pre-concert activities such as the popular Instrument Zoo.

A highlight of Summerfest 2019 is the Space Spectacular, through which NCS joins in Lift Off NC: Apollo & Beyond, a statewide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Symphony performs selections from Holst’s The Planets, the Star Wars saga, and more—plus, costumed Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion will be on site for photo opportunities and the Morehead Planetarium will bring telescopes for stargazing. The summer starts off with Berlioz’s passionate Symphonie fantastique on Memorial Day weekend, and as part of the Town of Cary’s annual “Play with the Pros,” citizen musicians will join NCS musicians on stage for several selections. Other much-anticipated Summerfest programs include Grammy-nominated violinist Jennifer Frautschi performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, and a classical-pop crossover concert with North Carolina native and singer-songwriter Ben Folds. In a special summertime program apart from the Summerfest season, Booth Amphitheatre presents NCS with pop-culture satirist “Weird Al” Yankovic. As always, the Symphony performs patriotic favorites at the Town of Cary’s free Independence Day celebration at Booth Amphitheatre.

Partnering with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, NCS leads the most extensive education program of any symphony orchestra. Each year, the Symphony engages 70,000 students of all ages across North Carolina—including more than 52,000 4th and 5th graders who attend NCS Education Concerts, learning core musical concepts such as tempo, rhythm, and dynamics, in alignment with the state curriculum. For 2019/20, the music programmed on the Education Concerts will tie into the statewide She Changed the World campaign, with an emphasis on female composers.

In addition to its education offerings for schools and students, the Symphony’s Young People’s Concerts welcome families to experience music together. The 2019/20 season includes the Halloween Spooktacular: The Composer Is Dead, a murder-mystery based on the book by Lemony Snicket; Happy Feet to a Latin Beat, in which a young boy discovers the excitement of rhythm and dance; and Fairy Tales & Dragons, transporting families to the magical realm with music from Sleeping Beauty, Frozen, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, How to Train Your Dragon, and more. Young People’s Concerts are preceded by family-fun activities such as the Instrument Zoo, face-painting, photos with characters, and hands-on crafts with Marbles Kids Museum.

With a commitment to making classical music accessible to the entire community, NCS looks forward to presenting its first sensory-friendly concert on September 14—a one-hour performance with a relaxed attitude toward movement and noise in the concert hall, encouraging those with differing needs to fully enjoy and express themselves. Accommodations and services will be provided to support the needs of families from the autism community and others with sensory sensitivities—and the concert is welcoming and inclusive of individuals of all ages and abilities. Conducted by NCS Music Director Grant Llewellyn and featuring familiar classical and popular music, this concert is made possible in part by funding from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. Additionally, in January, one performance of the Young People’s Concert Happy Feet to a Latin Beat will be designed as a sensory-friendly concert.

Other important initiatives expanding access to classical music and increasing the Symphony’s presence in the community include Soundbites chamber music concerts, which take place at Raleigh restaurants and feature an intimate concert with insights from the performers following a multi-course meal; the free Manning Music series at William Peace University; the free Concerts in Your Community series presented in outdoor settings throughout the state each summer; and a free lecture series at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. The Symphony’s quickly growing Young Professionals of the Symphony initiative will continue to attract Millennial and Gen-X audiences with affordably-priced concert/after-party packages, as well as pop-up concerts at Raleigh hotspots. Dates and details for these programs will be announced throughout the season.

The Symphony’s concert seasons in Chapel Hill, Wilmington, New Bern, Southern Pines, and Fayetteville offer many of the programs performed in Raleigh, as well as programs and guest artists heard only in those communities. 2019/20 programs across the state will be announced in the spring.

For more information, click here. And for complete concert detauls, see our calendar in due course.


About Music Director Grant Llewellyn

Grant Llewellyn is renowned for his exceptional charisma, energy, and easy authority in music of all styles and periods. A native of Tenby, South Wales, Llewellyn won a conducting fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts in 1985, where he worked with conducting legends Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Kurt Masur, and André Previn. As Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the early 1990s, he conducted at the Tanglewood Music Festival, and on classical series and Boston Pops concerts.

Llewellyn has conducted many orchestras in North America, most notably the symphonies of Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Milwaukee, Montreal, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Toronto. As Music Director of the Handel and Haydn Society, America’s leading period orchestra, he gained a reputation as a formidable interpreter of music of the Baroque and Classical periods.

Music Director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne since 2015, Llewellyn has held positions with numerous other European orchestras—including Principal Conductor of the Royal Flanders Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Guest Conductor with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Recent guest engagements include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, amongst others. An accomplished opera conductor, Llewellyn’s recent productions include the U.S. premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Fidelio with the Opéra de Rennes.

Llewellyn has led NCS in four critically acclaimed recordings, most recently Britten’s Cello Symphony and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, both with cellist Zuill Bailey.

Deeply committed and passionate about engaging young people with music, Llewellyn regularly leads education activities with NCS and around the world. In 2017 he led the first ever “relaxed” BBC Prom with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, a concert specially designed for those with autism, sensory and communication impairments, and learning disabilities.

Press release provided by the NC Symphony.