Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
Internationally renowned conductor and Norfolk native Thomas Wilkins has been named the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever Principal Guest Conductor. Having recently stepped down after 17 years as music director of the Omaha Symphony, Mr. Wilkins is currently principal conductor of the fabled Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, as well as Artistic Advisor for Education and Community Engagement at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His guest conducting credits include leading the orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, the New York Philharmonic among others, in addition to his posts at the Hollywood Bowl and BSO.
A frequent guest conductor and favorite of VSO audiences, Mr. Wilkins credits a performance by the Virginia Symphony for inspiring him at the age of eight to pursue a career as a professional conductor, when he attended a youth concert as a student at Young Park Elementary in Norfolk (now Park Place Elementary).
“I often say that I didn’t choose music; music chose me,” said Mr. Wilkins. “And to be invited to return as a leader to the place where I made that decision to embrace music as a career and way of life so many years ago is incredibly moving for me. I have enormous love and respect for the musicians of the Virginia Symphony and I’m thrilled and honored to join them in this new role.”
Mr. Wilkins joins the organization at an exciting time as the orchestra begins its second century. Since 2019, the VSO has been recognized nationally for striving to reflect the region’s ethnic and racial diversity in its members, its programming, and its leadership.
The appointment of Wilkins as not only the orchestra’s first Principal Guest Conductor but its first Black artistic leader comes just weeks after 38-year-old Eric Jacobsen was selected as the VSO’s new music director, another bold step toward expanding the VSO’s vision to engage wider audiences with creative and relevant programming.
In announcing the appointment, VSO Board Chair Mike McClellan said, “This is a true dream team! Eric and Thomas share the VSO’s commitment to telling our community’s stories and advancing the important conversations that will promote understanding and belonging among all our residents.”
The symphony hosted a welcome event for Mr. Wilkins on Monday, July 19th at 4:30pm at the Chrysler Hall Dress Circle Lobby, with a special performance by the Boys Choir of Hampton Roads, led by Julius McCullough.
Devoted to promoting a life-long enthusiasm for music, Mr. Wilkins brings energy and commitment to audiences of all ages. He is hailed as a master at communicating and connecting with audiences. Following his highly successful first season with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Globe named him among the “Best People and Ideas of 2011.” In 2014, Mr. Wilkins received the prestigious “Outstanding Artist” award at the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Awards for his significant contribution to music in the state, while in 2018 Mr. Wilkins received the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society conferred by Boston’s Longy School of Music. And in 2019 the Virginia Symphony bestowed Mr. Wilkins with its annual Dreamer Award.
During his conducting career, Mr. Wilkins has led orchestras throughout the United States, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the National Symphony. Additionally, he has guest conducted the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, the Symphonies of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, San Diego and Utah, and the Buffalo and Rochester Philharmonics, as well as at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago.
Mr. Wilkins is a graduate of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He and his wife Sheri-Lee are the proud parents of twin daughters, Erica and Nicole.
Mr. Wilkins’ first appearance with the orchestra in his new role will be February 18-20, 2022. Tickets will be on sale in mid-August at www.virginiasymphony.org.