tWEST HARTFORD — After an extended break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra will return to its familiar stage at Kingswood Oxford School to kick off its 19th season on Sunday.

Though the orchestra members played one outdoor show on June 5, there hasn’t been a sense of normalcy since their last rehearsal on March 10, 2020, when they were preparing for what the orchestra’s director Richard Chiarappa said was set to be a difficult concert.

“We didn’t even practice,” Chiarappa said of that night. “We stood around together and commiserated and handed in our music for the upcoming concert that was supposed to happen in three weeks.”

For Chiarappa, who has been teaching music at Kingswood Oxford since 1979, starting the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2002 was a lifelong dream for him.

To describe the feeling the orchestra brings him, Chiarappa uses the words of one of the orchestra’s members, who by day works for an insurance company.

“He said the moment he walks into rehearsal and he hears the orchestra warming up ... everything that was bothering him ... or what was about to happened disappears,” Chiarappa said. “He’s just in another world and at peace for two hours while rehearsing. I have found that to be wonderful in my life all these years. During a rehearsal your concentration is right there. Your ears are bigger than usual as you listen to what’s going on around you. It’s heartwarming and very inspiring.”

The orchestra is made up of amateur musicians, many who diligently played their instruments as students when they were younger.

“They aren’t making their living in music,” Chiarappa said. “They put everything aside and the moment they walk in the rehearsal door and they hear the music and the tuning up it sort of transports them to another world.”

And some are students, including the two Conard High School seniors — Maggie Slap and Thomas Tarutin — who will be featured soloists as the first concert.

Slap, a cellist, has been with the orchestra since she was in seventh grade.

“She was an advanced young player,” Chiarappa said. “We’ve all watched her develop through the years and heard her and now all of a sudden she’s playing this wonderful Tchaikovsky piece. She has taken it very seriously. Maggie is a wonderful young girl and very conscientious and very talented. We’re enjoying working with her.”

Tarutin, a violist, will be giving the spotlight to an instrument that typically doesn’t receive that treatment by playing “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” by Max Bruch.

“He’s a strong and sensitive viola player,” Chiarappa said. “Viola players don’t always get the credit they deserve. When they’re good and the piece is written just for the viola it’s beautiful music. He’s doing a great job with it.”

Chiarappa said he finds beauty in blending young talents like Slap and Tarutin with the more experienced members of the orchestra. The group has members as young as 14 and as old as those in their 80s. There are doctors, teachers, high school students and middle school students, among the many others involved.

The upcoming concert won’t exactly be the same as previous ones, as protocols like social distancing have changed things when it comes to the stage set up, meaning the full orchestra won’t be present. That presents a challenge with creating a tight orchestra sound, Chiarappa said.

“This first one is a smaller concert and a shorter concert,” Chiarappa said. “We’ve changed things in how we greet people. We’re not having intermission at this first concert. Little by little, we’re edging our way back into normalcy.”

That won’t be the case for the orchestra’s Dec. 12 holiday concert, though, as Chiarappa expects a fuller ensemble.

Even so, he said, the musicians are just happy to be back on stage in any way they can.

“They’re so happy to just be back together and making music in person,” Chiarappa said. “They’re doing all they can to sound as good as they possibly can.”

The concert Sunday will be held at the Roberts Theater at Kingswood Oxford School at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10. A proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken 48 hours prior to the show is required. Audience members should also wear masks during indoor shows, the orchestra advises.

Connecticut Media Group