• Press Release

New Fellowship Program at Virginia Symphony Seeks to Diversify Orchestras Nationwide



Words and Images Courtesy of the Virginia Symphony


In Partnership with ODU, Local Public Schools to Gain Mentors


HAMPTON ROADS, VA [January 18, 2022] The Virginia Symphony Orchestra has announced a new Musician Fellowship Program for four early-career African American orchestral string musicians to advance the goal of increased diversity of orchestral musicians nationwide. The first Fellows will join the orchestra in the fall of 2022. This initiative is a continuation of the VSO’s commitment not only to serve our community but to reflect the diversity of Hampton Roads.


In making the announcement, President and CEO Karen Philion said, “To be truly excellent the VSO must be diverse. This program is really a game-changer for the VSO and will open up opportunities for not only the Fellows but for everyone who comes in contact with the orchestra. Thanks to all who were involved in designing this program, especially our musicians whose leadership remains key to its success.”

Music Director Eric Jacobsen added, “The passion and energy of young musicians fuels all of us on stage, and we are incredibly grateful for the community support that makes this groundbreaking project possible. What we are doing here in Virginia will be a model for other orchestras nationwide.”


The Fellows will perform as part of the VSO in over 100 rehearsals and performances throughout eastern Virginia and engage in public school residencies and educational performances. Professional development opportunities, including private instrument instruction, mock auditions, and mentorship, will better equip Fellows to achieve in their careers as performers and educators. Through these activities, Fellows will receive 9 university-level course credits from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, according to each Fellow’s degree level: undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate course credit. For those Fellows at a post-graduate level, these 9 credits culminate in a Graduate Certificate in Music Performance.


“The Diehn School of Music at ODU is excited to collaborate with the Virginia Symphony of this Fellowship Program,” said Dr. Nancy K. Klein, Professor of Choral Music and Director of the F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music at ODU. “Offering the Performer’s Certificate as part of the program will open doors for musicians to advance their training and education at the highest possible level. This has been two years in the planning stages and we are happy to see it launched.”

“I’m so pleased that we are starting this program. I look forward to identifying and encouraging talented young musicians— a win-win-win for them, for our orchestra and for our community,” said Vahn Armstrong, VSO Concertmaster.


VSO Musician Fellows will participate in the breadth of work performed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra including Classics and Regional Classics, Pops, Peanut Butter & Jam family concerts, Young People’s Concerts, outdoor community concerts, chamber music, small ensemble educational concerts for elementary school students, and mentorship and coaching for middle school, high school, and university students.

With their participation, fellows will receive a stipend for the orchestra services and education work performed, housing with a local host family, a monthly health insurance stipend, and a full scholarship to receive course credit from Old Dominion University.


The program is open to violinists, violists, cellists, and bassists who self-identify as Black. Application materials are due March 21, 2022 to fellowship@virginiasymphony.org. Live auditions will be held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk April 4 and 5, 2022. For more information on eligibility, and the application and audition materials, please visit www.virginiasymphony.org/fellowship. This Fellowship, in partnership with Old Dominion University, is made possible by generous support from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation with assistance from the Goode Family Foundation.

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As the region’s most celebrated musical, educational, and entrepreneurial arts organization, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra challenges expectations and pushes the boundaries of what an American orchestra can be.

Driven by a core belief of excellence and innovation, the VSO has received national attention for its unique mission serving a home area of 1.7 million across the diverse communities of southeastern Virginia. Through appearances at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall and its commitment to adventurous programming, the VSO and its musicians have been highlighted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and BBC Worldwide News.


Presenting more than 150 concerts and events annually for over 100,000 residents and visitors, the VSO and VSO Chorus are the largest performing arts organization in southeastern Virginia. Recent innovations include health and wellness programs, interactive therapeutic experiences for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and adopting welcoming concert environments for neurodiverse audiences. Since 2019, the VSO has been nationally recognized for striving to reflect the region’s ethnic and racial diversity in its members, programming, and leadership.


Selecting the young and dynamic conductor Eric Jacobsen as music director earlier this year was yet another bold step forward, further expanding the VSO’s vision to attract wider and larger audiences with engaging concert experiences and creative, relevant programming. With Norfolk native Thomas Wilkins as the artistic leadership team’s Principal Guest Conductor, VSO is committed to telling its community’s stories and advancing conversations that promote understanding and belonging among all residents.


Old Dominion University, located in Norfolk, is Virginia’s forward-focused public doctoral research university with approximately 23,500 students, rigorous academics, an energetic residential community and initiatives that contribute $2.6 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

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