Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra premieres first bluegrass viola concerto with ETHEL’s Ralph Farris

The Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra (RCCO) at NC State University will perform the world premiere of Donald Reid Womack’s Blue Ridge Seasons: A Bluegrass Concerto for Viola and Orchestra on Nov. 4.

This newly composed work has the distinction of being the first bluegrass viola concerto. It was written for ETHEL’s Ralph Farris, who will perform with RCCO as soloist, and inspired by the natural beauty and musical heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The new concerto will be paired with Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

“I was talking to [Womack], who grew up in Tennessee around bluegrass and was a bass player, and this was a project that he’d always wanted to do. So I shaped this concert around the core of that idea – colliding bluegrass and classical music through a unique prism of his compositional style,” said NC State director of orchestral studies and RCCO conductor Peter Askim. “Ralph Farris was the natural choice as soloist. In addition to his virtuosity and innovative work as founder of the string quartet ETHEL, he’s an omnivorous musician, at home in countless styles of music.”

Prior to the concert, there will be a sustainability showcase at 3:00 in the lobby to highlight issues related to the Blue Ridge mountains, the natural world, and groups working on environmental conservation. Following the concert will be a panel featuring Womack, Farris and representatives from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and Paul Schiminger, the CEO of the International Bluegrass Music Association.

“What’s interesting to me is the intersection of natural beauty, environmental stewardship and the arts,” said Askim. “[We’ll] talk about the history of bluegrass music and how it’s tied to a sense of place. Those are the intersections and themes – how does music come out of the natural world and be inspired by it?”

The Music of the Mountains concert will take place at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, with a Sustainability Showcase preceding the concert at 3 p.m. in the lobby of Stewart Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and NC State faculty or staff, and $5 for NC State students. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

Dr. Peter Askim will conduct the program.

Stewart Theatre is in the Talley Student Union at NC State University, located at 2610 Cates Ave.

For additional information or to purchase tickets, visit go.ncsu.edu/bluegrass.


This project was supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the City of Raleigh based on recommendations of the Raleigh Arts Commission; and the NC State University Sustainability Fund.

Donald Reid Womack serves as professor of composition and theory at the University of Hawaii. He has composed more than 90 works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, and voice. His work with Japanese, Korean and Chinese instruments has placed him at the vanguard of intercultural composition.

Violist Ralph Farris is a founding member of the renowned string quartet ETHEL, a Grammy-nominated arranger, an original Broadway orchestra member of The Lion King, and the former musical director for The Who’s Roger Daltrey.