Jacob Liao, Contributing Photographer

Yale Symphony Orchestra’s new 2023-2024 concert season, which is set to begin on Sept. 30, envisions a future of powerful — yet accessible — classical music.

At the end of September, the orchestra will open with a concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B flat minor and Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.” The concert program is a result of both the Programming Commitee’s careful deliberation and repertoire requests from orchestra members. This year’s Programming Director, Naomi-Jeanne Main ’26, aims to highlight every section of the orchestra throughout the season.

“I think a common misconception is that these two big pieces are to show off,” said student pianist Alex Nam ’25. “But, that is not what the piece itself is about. It grabs the audience and is very heartfelt, and I think that’s what should shine through instead.”

Nam, who won the 2023 William Waite Concerto Competition, will be the featured pianist in the Tchaikovsky piece and will lead the orchestra throughout the piece. Students compete in the competition in the winter to get a chance to perform with YSO. This year’s winners also included Nathaniel Strothkamp ’26. 

Nam says that although the Tchaikovsky is one of the most famous and “enduring pieces of the entire repertoire,” there is more to it. 

“It’s very generous,” Nam said. “Not just personable, but really big-hearted. That’s what I try to bring out.”

Nam also describes the work as a “gateway piece,” something that will familiarize audiences within a genre often characterized as elitist.

YSO endeavors to carry the spirit of accessibility throughout its programs and approach to performance. 

According to Maestro William Boughton, the symphony “is classless.” 

“People think it’s only rich people that can afford it, but that’s nonsense,” Boughton said. “You can go to the Metropolitan for twenty-five dollars.”

Moreover, the organization’s community outreach role was created to coordinate programs within the New Haven community, specifically with its “LEAP” program. This program allows orchestra members to teach and expose children to classical music and music theory who otherwise would not have those opportunities.

Atticus Margulis-Ohnuma ’25, president and principal violinist of YSO, also hopes to expand outreach programs in coming years, incorporating performances into nursing homes and other community venues.

The orchestra also showcases familiar favorites like George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story.” The goal is for people to recognize these pieces, and “really feel like they’re a part of it,” said Margulis-Ohnuma.

According to Boughton, the works should still challenge both audiences and the performers. 

YSO rehearsals have changed this season to incorporate one professional-led sectional practice, in addition to student and conductor-led rehearsals later on in the process. The result is a performance that sparks fascination and introspection for audiences. 

While the season itself doesn’t have an overarching theme, each concert has its own intentions for the audience. The first, featuring Nam, is meant to excite, provoke and prepare listeners for the season ahead. The second is a celebration of Gershwin, featuring young musicians from the Music Haven program which seeks to provide tuition-free classical music lessons to New Haven students — once again emphasizing accessibility. 

“[The goal of YSO is] to make it the kind of thing that anyone can feel comfortable going to regardless of knowledge of the music itself,” Margulis-Ohnuma said.

Later in the season, performances will include Strothkamp’s interpretation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor paired with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor, and Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” which will be performed with Elm City Girls choir in both New Haven and New York at St. Bartholomew’s Church. The season closes with works from Brahams, Respighi and Nina Shakar.

As for the Halloween show, Boughton, Nam, Main and Margulis-Ohnuma remained tight-lipped. Still, Main said that the performance will showcase the “versatility of the orchestra” and is a great event for those otherwise unfamiliar with YSO. 

“The YSO Halloween show is not an experience to miss,” Margulis-Ohnuma said.

The Yale Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1965.