When Raffaele Ponti appears onstage, he's usually wielding a conductor's baton as a hushed audience listens to the Paducah Symphony Orchestra.
But Thursday evening saw Ponti mingling with symphony supporters as they milled about the stage of the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, waiting for the unveiling of the 2014-2015 season.
"Tonight's really about thanking these people for their support and getting them excited for the next season," said Ponti, the symphony's artistic director.
Symphony supporters enjoyed drinks, hors d'oeuvres and music from the Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra before executive director Daniel Sene announced the season's sponsors: Lourdes hospital, the Carson-Myre Charitable Foundation, and Baptist Health Paducah, which will also sponsor the remainder of this year's season. Carson-Myre and the Ronald McDonald House will provide funding for the symphony's educational programs, Sene added.
Ponti then took the podium to give supporters a sneak peek at the new season, which features its usual seven performances and five Encore Series performances.
"I'm bringing in some ... contemporary music, meaning the music of composers who are still alive. Its not avant-garde; it's beautiful, wonderful music," he said. "I'm trying to introduce our audiences to something that's new, while on the same program will be a warhorse of great masterpieces."
The season begins Sept. 6 with Sergei Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, featuring guest pianist Antonio Pampi-Balda. Next up is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," scheduled for Oct. 4.
"It doesn't get any more sexy than this," Ponti quipped after showing a clip of the piece.
Nov. 2 brings a performance of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, featuring violin soloist Glenn Dicterow, the current concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Ponti called the inclusion of the violinist a huge coup for the symphony.
And concertgoers will want to buy tickets early for the Dec. 13 Christmas Celebration, which has sold out four years in a row.
The fifth show, "A Lincoln Portrait," is set for Feb. 14. The Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra will perform side by side for part of the sixth performance, Carl Nielsen's 4th Symphony, to be held March 14.
For the final performance of the season April 18, more than 300 voices will flood the Carson Center during Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."
Ponti said symphony ticket sales are going strong, as are the organization's educational initiatives.
"Without the support of these people," he said of Thursday's attendees, "we couldn't grow these opportunities and touch the community. It's less about the music and more about the community and enriching lives."
All the PSO's performances are held at 7:30 p.m. at the Carson Center, 100 Kentucky Ave. Encore Series performances, which include recitals, choral concerts and the Young Artist Concerto Competition, are held the day after the concert at a variety of locations. For more information, visit paducahsymphony.org or call 270-444-0065.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.