ASO’s Maestro Ross Re-imagines the Symphony

Attendees of Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert of the 2019-2020 season are in for a unique experience. Maestro James Ross, now in his second season as Music Director, continues to question concert formats and reinvent how classical music can be presented. For the season opener, Ross has arranged his own “Imaginary Symphony,” drawing from movements by four composers across centuries and continents. Each movement is part of a cohesive symphonic work that reflects on human conflict, both war and peace. 

“Conductors are rarely composers’, but we are certainly the most personal advocates for other composer’s works,” says Maestro Ross. “By excerpting some of the strongest movements from existing works, I hope to shed deserved light on composers and pieces that have lain fairly absent from our concert halls. I hope to animate the audience to search out and discover the full works from which they come.” 

Launching the season on Oct. 5 and 6, 2019, this concert program commemorates the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The “Imaginary Symphony” depicts visions of beauty juxtaposed with the realities of war. The first movement sets the scene, borrowed from William Walton’s Symphony No. 1 (mvt. 1) and composed prior to WWII; dark and intense, the movement is riddled with anxiety and agitation. Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony (mvt. 2) paints pastoral and scenic landscapes, images of beauty and peace. Beach’s symphony was the first to be composed and published by an American woman, decades before women were granted the right to vote. 

An excerpt from suffragist Ethel Smyth’s opera The Wreckers furthers Beach’s narrative with “On the Cliffs of Cornwall.” Smyth made the acquaintance of Dvorák, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Clara Schumann and was romantically tied to Emmeline Pankhurst and Virginia Woolf. Composed in 1946, Arthur Honegger’s Third Symphony (mvt. 3) presents a war march that evaporates into a call for peace. Honegger spent WWII in occupied France, and his symphony contemplates the tragedy of human loss. 

Prior to the “Imaginary Symphony,” the ASO will present Tidbit No. 1 by Lionel Semiatin. The composer served as a corporal in the Army and fought on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. Semiatin’s daughter, Gene Pohl, plays frequently with the ASO and will perform with the viola section. “Semiatin makes the experience of war feel personal,” comments Ross. “It’s a kind of love letter to the positive spirit of the country he was missing.” 

The remainder of the program features Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with renowned soloists Rita Sloan (piano), Nicholas Tavani (violin) and Alan Richardson (cello). Tavani and Richardson perform frequently as members of the famed Aeolus Quartet. Ms. Sloan has performed along many distinguished artists as well as with orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the United States. She serves on the music faculty at the University of Maryland. 

The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s 2019-2020 season opens on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 (8 p.m.) at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center on the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College and Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019 (3 p.m.) at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Free parking is provided, and both venues are metro accessible. Five-concert adult subscriptions start at $86, single tickets range $20-$85. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit or call (703) 548-0885.