Photo by Sean Gasser

Striking a Chord: BRSO and its new maestro kick off the 2023-2024 cultural season

As the baton rose on opening night, the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra ushered in not only a new season, but a new era under the direction of maestro and music director Adam Johnson.

Johnson’s 2023 debut marks both his 10th year as a professional conductor and the 150th birthday of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, one of Johnson’s—and the BRSO audience’s—favorite classical composers.

“We performed a piece the audience voted as the symphony they would most like to hear this season—Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2,” he says. “I’m really enjoyed preparing this amazing piece and the opening concert.”

A recipient of a Canada Council conducting award, Johnson earned a doctorate in piano performance from the Université de Montréal and a prize in orchestral conducting from the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal. Over the years, he guest-conducted orchestras across Canada, Europe and the United States.

Johnson has served as the resident conductor of Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and, most recently, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. During that time, he also created ed materials for music educators and hosted workshops and performances to increase the quantity and quality of local music education.

For the 2023 season premiere on September 14, Canadian violinist Kerson Leong joined Johnson for the program, which also included pieces from Wagner, Ravel and Massenet. Then, on November 2, the maestro will conduct selections from Beethoven, Simon and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Besides the series of five orchestral concerts featuring the classics, BRSO is mounting an ambitious season that includes Bachtoberfest, holiday brass and choral concerts, chamber music performances, the Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Foundation Great Performer in Concert Series and the popular Concert with Candles series with the music of Queen, Taylor Swift and piano men Billy Joel and Frederic Chopin as well as hip hop classics and Halloween favorites.

“BRSO is already an outstanding orchestra,” Johnson explains. “My goal is to make sure that we are connecting with audiences in the most powerful ways, so they come away from concerts absolutely thrilled with the experience and having been deeply moved by the music and by our performance.”

Keep scrolling to learn about more of the performances planned by local venues and arts organizations for the 2023-2024 cultural season.

Opéra Louisiane

A trio of performances make up Opéra Louisiane’s upcoming season. First up is Camille Saint-Saëns’ Hell’s Bell, an eerie story of lust, greed and supernatural activity, on October 5 at the Old State Capitol. On December 15 and 17 at the Manship Theatre, performances of The Christmas Spider by Clint Borzoni and John de los Santos will get audiences in the holiday spirit. The season will conclude with the tale of Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville on May 3 and 5 at the Manship Theatre.

Cirque du Soleil. Courtesy Cirque Du Soleil

Raising Cane’s River Center

Broadway in Baton Rouge is back at the River Center Theatre for a new season featuring four fan-favorite shows. On November 5, the series will kick off with Mean Girls, followed by The Book of Mormon on November 28, Come From Away on February 25 and Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience on March 3. In addition to these shows, the River Center will also host performances of A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 2, as well as Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo on February 22-25.

Cinderella. Photo by Eye Wander Photo

Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre

Ballet slippers stand in for glass slippers during the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s April 20-21 performances of Cinderella at the River Center Theatre. The well-loved classic is the conclusion of the company’s season, which features four shows to put on display the beauty and diversity of dance. Christian company Ballet Magnificat! helps to start the season with two October 29 performances of The Scarlet Cord, which follows two Christian missionaries in the Soviet Union. Holiday favorite The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou is at the River Center Theatre December 16-17 featuring the talents of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. And in partnership with Manship Theatre, innovative dance company Pilobolus will be back in Baton Rouge on March 10 for a performance of new works titled Re: Creation.

Theatre Baton Rouge

Pink Ladies, romance novelists, New Yorkers and even Ebenezer Scrooge are all part of this season at Theatre Baton Rouge. With the first show of the season, Alice in Wonderland, already in the rearview mirror as it took the stage back in August, next up is the story of Danny, Sandy and 1950s teen love with Grease on September 15-17 and 21-24. In October, the company will present R-rated Misery, the story of a famed writer and his deranged super fan, in honor of Halloween. The season will conclude with two classic fan favorites, with Rent on November 10-12 and 16-19 followed by A Christmas Carol on December 8-10 and 14-17.

Civic Orchestra of Baton Rouge

This will be a season of firsts for this all-volunteer ensemble. Kicking off the schedule is an October 22 performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 and Sibelius’ Finlandia, which will serve as the orchestra’s first time presenting a full symphony. That performance will be followed by a holiday concert on December 2 and a spring concert showcasing woodwind and brass players on March 17, both at the Main Library at Goodwood. The season will conclude with the group’s first “pops” concert on June 1, featuring hits from films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park.

Step Afrika!

Manship Theatre

From a step show to yoga to an acclaimed film, the next few months at the Manship Theatre offer experiences of all kinds. On October 20, pianist and composer Chad Lawson will take the stage, and the following day, he will once again be at the piano, this time for a special Music, Yoga and Meditation class with Grace Yoga & Pilates. On December 7, there will be a showing of the New Orleans-focused film Big Chief, Black Hawk followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Jonathan Isaac Jackson. Finally, step group Step Afrika! will be at the theater on February 27 for a special performance.

Photo by Kleinpeter Photography

Cangelosi Dance Project

October 15 marks the start of the Cangelosi Dance Project’s season, with a free show at the Baton Rouge Gallery. Clara, the Snow Queen, Uncle Drosselmeyer and more will all be back on the Dunham Theatre stage for the company’s annual Holiday Nutcracker performances December 15-17.

River City Jazz Masters

A collaboration between the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the River City Jazz Coalition, this year’s River City Jazz Masters series brings a diverse cast of world-renowned jazz musicians to the Manship Theatre for four performances. Kicking off the series on October 11, The Headhunters will make a stop in Baton Rouge on their 50th anniversary world tour. Disney’s classics are reimagined with a jazz celebration performance of the animation studio’s 100th birthday on November 15 courtesy of Harlem’s The National Jazz Museum. The series will conclude on March 6 with The Blue Note Quintet in a show memorializing jazz record label Blue Note Records’ 85th anniversary.

Baton Rouge Concert Band

This all-volunteer band presents free performances for the local community year-round. In the coming months, the group will play five shows, starting with a fall concert on September 24 at the Main Library at Goodwood and followed by a Christmas concert on December 3 at St. Joseph Cathedral. To round out the year, the group will also present a spring show on April 14, a Memorial Day concert on May 27 and, finally, an Independence Day show on July 4, all of which will take place at the Main Library at Goodwood.

Sullivan Theater

Now in its premier season, this group is working to bring a new theater experience to the Central area. For its final two shows this year, audiences can expect a pair of classic favorites. October 27-November 5 will see a play of murder and mystery on the newly built Sullivan Theater stage with performances of Clue. For the Christmas season, a heartwarming play adaption of Miracle on 34th Street will take place December 7-17.

Photo by Kevin Berne

Red Magnolia Theatre Company

Leading up to the company’s performance of Mother of the Maid, the tale of Joan of Arc told through the perspective of her mother, April 19-28, Red Magnolia Theatre Company is hosting a pair of workshops aimed at helping locals perfect their acting and singing skills. Red noses are the tool for the first workshop on September 9, with attendees engaging with vulnerability to craft more authentic performances. A second workshop on September 23 will focus on the audition process from start to finish.

Christian Youth Theatre’s production of SpongeBob last season.

Christian Youth Theatre

Marlin, Nemo and all of the friends they find along their quest for reunification will take the Christian Youth Theatre stage for the first show of the 2023-2024 season on October 26-28. Following are three more shows to round out the season, with Anastasia this winter, Mary Poppins in the spring, and Newsies in the summer.

Photo by Eye Wander Photo

Of Moving Colors Productions

The modern dance company will kick off its 36th season with the show Your Move on November 3-4 at the Mid City Ballroom. In the spring, the group will once again team up with local kids for the annual Kick It Out program in collaboration with Big Buddy, which culminates in a show on April 8. The last performance of the season will be The Orchids Arc at the Mid City Ballroom on May 17-18.

LSU Theatre’s production of Rachel last season.

LSU Theatre & Swine Palace

This month, LSU Theatre will kick off its season with plenty of laughs during performances of At the Wedding, a comedic tale of a woman at her ex-girlfriend’s wedding to a man, September 21 through October 1 at the Shaver Theatre. Marburg is LSU Theatre’s spring show, which will take the stage April 11-21 at the Reilly Theatre. Swine Palace’s season starts with a bang at the Reilly Theatre on November 2-12 with its first show, Roe, and The Book of Will, which rounds out the season February 15-22 and March 5.

Playmakers’ presentation of High School Musical Jr.

Playmakers of Baton Rouge

Just wrapping a run of High School Musical Jr. in August, Playmakers of Baton Rouge will be back in December for a holiday presentation. From December 8-17, the group will perform Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf at LSU’s Reilly Theatre.