Last week the Virginia Symphony Orchestra performed at the Symphony by the Sea series in Virginia Beach. A little girl with butterfly face paint danced on the grass. Academics, young professionals, and retired couples enjoyed sandwiches and drinks on blankets. A court of princesses distributed free popsicles and light up rings before the music began. Audiences of all ages enjoyed orchestral works from movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Beauty and the Beast.

Many film composers, particularly John Williams (Harry Potter, Hook) mirror the styles of classical composers, making their works a fitting gateway for audiences not typically interested in symphonic music.

Last week’s concert marked the debut of VSO’s new assistant conductor, Gonzalo Farias. Farias studied at the Universities of Chile and Illinois, the New England Conservatory, and most recently, the Peabody Conservatory, where he was mentored by Marin Alsop. The VSO’s assistant conductor position involves a plethora of community engagement and outreach. Outdoor performances, and events at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center, aim to activate wider audiences and involve the community in the VSO’s music making.

Farias is poised, musically intuitive, charismatic, and instantly likeable - he’ll be a refreshing presence in the upcoming season. During last week’s performance, he added a personal touch to every piece, noting the Virginia Beach Oceanfront reminded him of his childhood in Chile and that he cried the first time he saw the movie UP.

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra put forward a good effort. Overall, the amplification and strong winds off the ocean gave the orchestra a tinny sound, not unusual during outdoor concerts. There were also a few issues with the speakers during Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz and the music from The Incredibles.

Many people passing by on their way to restaurants stopped once they recognized tunes from their favorite movies. Several sections stood out musically. The flutes had a lovely spotlight during the middle portion of the whimsical piece from UP, and the violin soloist in Lord of the Rings played with a rich and ardent color. Farias guided the orchestra through the 90-minute program with grace. His calm demeanor provided assurance without coming across as rigid.

A boy dressed as Peter Pan inquired, “Do you believe in magic?” at the end of the program. He instructed believers to light their rings, which were handed out before the concert began. “Nothing beats the sensation of flying,” proclaimed Farias as the orchestra whirled into the finale, Flight to Neverland, from Hook. Farias’s first performance with the VSO proved classical music every bit as enchanting as our favorite fantasy films.

Symphony by the Sea will return to Neptune’s Park in Virginia Beach on July 26. The VSO will perform a mix of classical and film music. As always, the outdoor concert will be free and open to all. Visit for more information.