Opera lovers will find a lot to like in the Salem Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season.
Soprano Evelyn Griffin will be featured in the opening concert of the Salem, Mass., orchestra on Sunday, Jan. 7, at 3 p.m.
Griffin will sing arias from three different operas, including one by Mozart, another from Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” and an aria from Puccini’s “La Rondine.” Griffin will also perform the comical “Vilja Song” from Franz Lehar’s operetta “The Merry Widow.”
“These are all just beautiful arias, and Evelyn has such a wonderful voice,” said conductor John Koza. “She sang with the Paul Madore Chorale’s spring concert, and she was wonderful. I know the audience is going to love her.”
This is the 114th year that the 45-piece Salem Philharmonic Orchestra has given free concerts on successive Sundays beginning in January. All of this season’s performances will be at Salem High School in Salem, Mass., at 3 p.m., and the final concert will feature an original work by Gloucester composer Robert Bradshaw.
Tenor Fred VanNess Jr. of Beverly will offer another opera program during the third concert, on Sunday, Jan. 28, when he will sing two arias by Verdi, and another by French composer Jules Massenet.
“He’s going to sing a popular Italian song ‘Funiculi, Funicula,’ a very popular Neapolitan song,” Koza said. “If you don’t know the name, you’ll recognize the song as soon as you hear it.”
Koza said that all of the soloists are chosen either because they are fine, established performers who ought to be better-known or because they are young, emerging talents who deserve an opportunity.
“Every soloist on the program fits the kind of thing that we are about as an orchestra,” he said.
In addition to the opera singers, this season’s solo performers will include violinist Natalia Beos, a Lynn resident who served as concert mistress last year for the Salem Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. She will play a movement from Camille Saint-Saens’ third violin concerto on Sunday, Jan. 14.
On the same program, Monica Duncan from Newburyport, the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, will perform Carl Maria von Weber’s “Concertino.”
Duncan, who teaches at Pingree School in Hamilton, was recently named director of instrumental music at the River Valley Charter School in Newburyport. She has been principal clarinetist with the Salem Philharmonic for two years and is looking forward to her first performance as a soloist with the orchestra.
“Weber’s ‘Concertino’ is a classic, one of those pieces that may be easy to play but difficult to master,” she said. “I love how it really showcases all of the aural acrobatics a clarinetist can achieve: extreme highs and lows of range and volume; soft, sweet passages; as well as raucous fun.”
Duncan took over as principal clarinetist from Koza, who was born and raised in Salem, Mass., and now lives in Beverly. Koza became a full-time member of the Salem Philharmonic in 1976, the year he graduated from Salem High School, and was handed the conductor’s baton from Alan Hawryluk in 2015.
“To carry on this century-old tradition is a privilege for me — the joy of making music, and the privilege of working with the wonderful musicians who join,” Koza said.
This year, in addition to conducting area musicians, he will lead the orchestra on Sunday, Feb. 4, in performing a work composed by Gloucester’s Bradshaw.
“Rob’s a very fine trumpeter, and I’ve played his music not only with an adult orchestra, but with youth orchestras,” Koza said. “It’s very accessible music, and it’s beautifully themed.”
The inspiration for this work is the poem that provides its name, “Good Harbor, Home” by Gloucester poet John Ronan, who will read his text at the concert. Ronan said in a statement that the poem, which was written for the inauguration of Mayor John Bell on Jan. 1, 2002, is “civic in theme and form.”
“By civic poetry, I mean poems written for the public on shared topics,” Ronan said. “I mean poetry accessible to an attentive, general audience.”
He said that civic poetry should be “insightful and fresh” and should never talk down to its audience, while also providing hope.
“It may be a battered hope, even diminished, but is never cowed or faint, remains brassy, unabashed,” Ronan said. “Civic poetry makes no apologies for believing in our stressed, still wonderful American experiment.”
IF YOU GO
What: Salem Philharmonic Orchestra winter series
When: Sundays, Jan. 7, 14 and 28, and Feb. 4, at 3 p.m.
Where: Salem High School, 77 Willson St., Salem, Mass.
How much: Free
More information: Visit salemphilharmonic.org.