Andrew Litton will be performing near home for a change.

The globe-trotting conductor will lead the Virginia Chamber Orchestra for his fifth season as music director in three pairs of concerts, beginning Sept. 13 and 14.

The orchestra will perform in three locations this year: the Sheraton Premiere in Tysons Corner, the Barns of Wolf Trap and the Washington Street United Methodist Church in Alexandria.

"Even though it might be slightly confusing to our audience . . . we're trying to find ourselves," Litton explained.

Finding an audience is a tough challenge for a small professional orchestra that does not draw the same audience of family and friends that a community orchestra relies on. It is necessary to find the right programs as well as the right place to bring in new concertgoers.

The Virginia Chamber Orchestra will reach out to younger listeners by bringing fresh selections to life.

One example is a work by Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten's teacher, titled "Summer." Although he is virtually unknown in the United States, Bridge is important for his influence on one of England's leading composers. The piece is "extremely romantic and extremely tonal," Litton said.

The first pair of concerts, at the Sheraton Premiere and the Washington Street United Methodist Church, will feature the voice of local soprano Chrissellene Petropoulos, in works by Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

In November, William Steck, concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, will play violin to Litton's piano when the Virginia Chamber Orchestra plays Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings.

"It's not a piece that has enjoyed widespread popularity," Litton said. "But isn't it nice to find a work that is written by the same genius" who created "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The hotel and the church also will host these concerts.

Next May, cellist Stephen Honigberg will play Dvorak's Rondo for Cello and Orchestra on the final program of the year, at Wolf Trap and the church. In each concert, Litton has chosen "to make use of all the wonderful local performers around Washington."

Litton wants to avoid demanding too much of his audience, preferring the accessible over the avant-garde: "I don't feel that it's our responsibility to do pieces that were written yesterday, and on which the ink is still wet."

In keeping with his relaxed, if serious, approach to these concerts, Litton has designed programs a little on the short side. "I think it's nice to have the audience wanting more, rather than feeling 'My, wasn't that long,' " he said.

On Sunday, he will lead the National Symphony in its Labor Day program on the West Lawn of the Capitol, playing Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and directing the orchestra from the piano in an arrangement of Gershwin tunes, titled "Who Cares."

While Litton's touring has taken him to three continents this year, he calls McLean his home. And even though he intended to take some time off when he got back, he could not refuse the opportunity to perform with his old friends at the National Symphony.

"It's kind of fun to go back to do the Labor Day concert," Litton said. In fact, the concert is a sort of family affair, since he recently married the principal harpist for the National Symphony, Dotian Carter.