North Carolina’s roots in classical music run so deep that our state passed the Horn Tootin’ Bill in 1943 to ensure that the North Carolina Symphony – founded in 1930 — would tour throughout the state, a practice that continues today in over 90 North Carolina counties.
Symphonies in N.C. offer dazzling musical entertainment in settings that vary from historic buildings to glitzy concert halls. Orchestral performances have been held at breweries and even at a newspaper distribution platform!
Below is a list of stand-out symphonies funded through the North Carolina Arts Council’s State Arts Resources category. These are professional orchestras that offer an array of outside-of-the auditorium experiences for residents and visitors.
Come Hear NC this winter by exploring the sounds of classical music!
PS: If you’re on the road there are several all-classical music public radio stations in North Carolina that you can tune into before or after your symphony experience including 89.9 WDAV in Charlotte, 89.7 WCPE in Raleigh, 88.5 WFDD in Winston-Salem, 88.1 Blue Ridge Public Radio in Asheville and 90.3 Public Radio East in New Bern.
Each year, the North Carolina Symphony’s 300 concerts, education programs, and community engagement events are enjoyed by adults and schoolchildren in more than 90 North Carolina counties. The Symphony’s full-time professional musicians perform under the artistic leadership of Music Director Grant Llewellyn, delivering orchestral experiences of the highest quality and collaborating with renowned performers that range from classical artists, to bluegrass musicians, to jazz bands.
NCS leads the most extensive education program of any symphony orchestra in the U.S.—serving nearly 70,000 students across North Carolina each year. This commitment to music education began with the Horn Tootin’ Bill of 1943, which established state fiscal support for the Symphony’s music education program.
The North Carolina Symphony has earned national recognition for its creative programming—including its innovative partnerships and its dedication to giving voice to new art. The Symphony has presented 49 U.S. or world premieres in its history and is an orchestra industry leader in performing work by women composers.
In upcoming months, NCS carries out its mission of artistic excellence, statewide service, and music education with concerts and events in Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines, Wilmington, and numerous other North Carolina communities—in addition to performances at its Raleigh state headquarters venue, Meymandi Concert Hall, and its Cary summer home venue, Koka Booth Amphitheatre. These concerts feature everything from classical symphonies, to Broadway hits, to the music of pop and rock legends.
Additional spring highlights include collaborations with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Master Chorale, and Paperhand Puppet Intervention; a live recording for an upcoming commercial album release; and the commission of a new work by Pulitzer Prize winning composer and North Carolina native Caroline Shaw.
By the way, the symphony is an agency of the North Carolina Department of Natural & Cultural Resources https://www.ncsymphony.org/
In the nearly 60 years since it was formed, the Asheville Symphony has become a driving force for creativity, artistic expression and collaborative exploration in Western North Carolina. The Asheville Symphony’s recent recording projects include The Asheville Symphony Sessions, which features songs that combine the unique styles of locally based musicians along with the Asheville Symphony, and Mozartistic, which blends the talents of hip-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, pianist Orion Weiss, DJ Marley Carroll, and the Asheville Symphony.
The biennial Asheville Amadeus festival, launched in 2015, is a 10-day event celebrating the things the Asheville Symphony believes Mozart would have loved, including music, dance, beer, food and film. The 2019 festival, which runs March 15-24, features two legendary headliners: rock guitarist Warren Haynes and pianist Garrick Ohlsson.
Each year the organization presents a core schedule of seven Masterworks Series concerts, plus a New Year’s Eve concert, chamber music, piano recitals, music in the schools events, youth orchestra concerts, and more. Darko Butorac, the symphony’s new music director, was selected after a national search generated nearly 400 applications last summer. https://ashevillesymphony.org/
When not leading the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, internationally renowned Music Director Christopher Warren-Green is the Music Director of the London Chamber Orchestra and has conducted music for several high-profile royal weddings, including those of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and Prince William and Kate Middleton. Not to mention the 80th birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth.
Royal engagements aside, Warren-Green inspires the nearly 60 full-time musicians in a dynamic season that runs September through May and includes Classical, Pops, and Family Series, among other special performances with notable soloists, a summer series, films in concert, and an annual favorite, the Magic of Christmas.
The Charlotte Symphony performs everywhere from community parks and schools to breweries and senior care centers. The popular On Tap series at NoDa Brewing Company and the On the Go neighborhood series mark an important expansion of programming in the community – bringing the orchestra experience to wider audiences.
The next generation of musicians and music lovers are nurtured by the CSO with two youth orchestras, led by Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees. Each season, the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras present several concerts, including a side-by-side with the professional orchestra, and perform as prelude acts before Symphony mainstage events.
The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra (GSO) has attracted national attention for innovative programming including the 2017 world premiere of Not So Classical, featuring Hollywood star Ken Jeong, and its newly-founded HOPS Series @ Preyer Brewing in downtown Greensboro, offering regularly sold-out chamber music performances in a pub setting.
For nearly 60 years, the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra (GSO) has provided residents and visitors to the Triad area with quality musical entertainment and educational opportunities.
Some of North Carolina's most talented musicians perform as members of the orchestra as do an array of internationally acclaimed artists. GSO’s mainstage programs include the Masterworks, POPS, Chamber, and Holiday Series, all of which reach over 50,000 Triad residents each year.
The Symphony also offers diverse outreach through its Keep Kids In Tune music education series with targeted programs for preschoolers, elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as adult learners. https://greensborosymphony.org/
It’s unusual to find a full-size professional symphony orchestra based in a town the size of Salisbury, and its more unusual to offer a free outdoor concert at the newspaper distribution platform at the back of the local newspaper building.
But the Salisbury-Rowan Symphony does just that. First hosted in 2005 as part of the Salisbury Post’s centennial celebrations, the “Pops at the Post” concert has turned into a widely anticipated annual event held in early June with more than 3,000 people attending each year. As it turns out, the Salisbury Post’s covered platform not only has a protected area for the musicians and very desirable acoustic properties, but it also conveniently faces a large parking lot which can accommodate tailgating, food vendors and thousands of folding chairs.
The Salisbury Symphony has been a major player in Rowan County’s arts scene for over 50 years, with a professional orchestra ranging from 60 to 90 members led by Dr. David Hagy, who has served as Music Director for over 30 years. The Symphony performs six concerts on the Catawba and Livingstone College campuses each year. https://www.salisburysymphony.org/
The Western Piedmont Symphony (WPS) has provided enriching musical performances to the Hickory area since 1964 and through growth and artistic quality has expanded to serve Western N.C.
The symphony’s fourth conductor John Gordon Ross, who led from 1991 to 2018, worked to balance classical music with modern pieces, and attracted high-profile artists to the area to perform with the symphony, including Willie Nelson, Judy Collins, Charlie Daniels and Bela Fleck among others. Also during Ross’ tenure, over 40 original pieces had their world premieres with WPS, and a Quartet-in-Residence was implemented, which expanded the orchestra’s outreach to include performances in schools, nursing homes, libraries and other locations. https://wpsymphony.org/
The Winston-Salem Symphony (WSS) has serenaded the Triad region for 72 years, offering not only the best in classical repertoire but also choral music, opera, ballet, popular music and more, welcoming such distinguished guests as Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Joshua Bell, and Chris Botti.
The Winston-Salem Symphony especially celebrates the sounds of North Carolina, collaborating with a diverse array of artists including Mandolin Orange, Rhiannon Giddens, Chris Thile, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Ricky Skaggs.
Established in 1946 originally as a civic orchestra on the campus of Salem College, the Winston-Salem Symphony incorporated in 1952 and hired its first full-time conductor in 1955. Four permanent music directors have led the WSS since its inception. Over the years the WSS has offered a wide range of repertoires including classical orchestral and choral concert music; opera, oratorio, and ballet; and popular music. www.wssymphony.org or follow on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter: @wssymphony.