The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is the most widely recognized orchestra and largest arts organization in the southeastern United States. It offers a variety of concerts year-round, in addition to outreach and educational programs in area schools and communities.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is based in Atlanta. The ASO's main concert venue is Atlanta Symphony Hall in the Woodruff Arts Center.
♦ Woodruff Arts Center is also home to the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art.
In 2008, the ASO opened its new 12,000-seat Amphitheatre at Encore Park in north Fulton County in the city of Alpharetta, some 22 miles north of Atlanta, where it presents concerts of its own as well as those by various pops groups.
Encore Park and the Amphitheatre are owned by the Woodruff Arts Center, the ASO's parent organization. Including Encore Park and its activities at Atlanta Symphony Hall and Chastain Park, the ASO expects to present more than 300 performances annually.
With a budget expected to increase to US $50 million with the completion of its new Amphitheatre, the ASO has become one of the six or seven largest orchestras in America, by budget size.
The ASO employs nearly 100 full-time musicians and a staff of 65.
The ASO's budget includes not only the costs of production, along with musician and staff salaries and benefits, but also the Orchestra's very significant expenditures on education, community outreach, special events and fundraising.
Its recordings are widely praised and have won many honors, including twenty-six Grammy awards as of 2006.
It receives strong community support through its volunteer guild, the Atlanta Symphony Associates.
In 1997, the ASO was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
The first ensemble to bear the title Atlanta Symphony Orchestra premiered on October 7, 1923, with sixty players drawn from pit orchestras of the Howard and Metropolitan Theaters.
The advent of talking motion pictures and the subsequent stock market crash in October 1929 dissolved the group before the end of the decade.
• In 1945 another ensemble under Chicago conductor Henry Sopkin (1903-88) was organized by music teachers in the public schools and sponsored by the Atlanta Music Club; it was called the Atlanta Youth Symphony. Adult musicians were added gradually, necessitating a name change in 1947 to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and by 1951 the ASO was entirely made up of professionals.
Under Sopkin's leadership, the ASO became one of the country's top twenty-five orchestras. It commissioned new works, began touring, and hosted famous guest artists ranging from violinist Isaac Stern to composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky.
• Beginning in 1967, Robert Shaw headed the ASO as music director and conductor. After overseeing the conversion from a part-time, nine-month ensemble to a full-time, year-round employer, he improved the orchestra's playing skills, founded the ASO choruses, and brought the orchestra to national prominence through extensive touring, appearances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Carnegie Hall in New York City, national radio broadcasts, and its first professional recordings.
Robert Shaw hired the orchestra's first black players, prompting the election of the first black members of its board, bringing in many African Americans as guest conductors and performers, and forging relationships with the predominantly black colleges of the Atlanta University Center.
• Shaw was followed by Yoel Levi, who served as music director from 1988 to 2000. Born in Romania in 1950 and brought up in Israel, Levi symbolized the ASO's increasingly international outlook. He made many recordings with the orchestra and in 1991 led its second tour of Europe. Levi expanded the orchestra, bringing in many fine new players. His discerning ear for such important aspects of ensemble technique as balance, intonation, and fine gradations of dynamics honed the ASO into one of the finest orchestras in the world.
• Robert Spano became music director in September 2001, and Donald Runnicles was named principal guest conductor, forming a unique creative partnership with senior ASO staff for developing musical programs and other projects.
The Spano-conducted CD of A Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams won three Grammy awards in February 2003, and Runnicles' CD of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana received two Grammy nominations.
Spano led the ASO and Chorus on the opening night of the 2003 Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and he conducted them at Carnegie Hall in 2004.
Mindful of the need to train young instrumentalists for excellence in future musical careers, the ASO sponsors the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO), an ensemble of 120 players of high school age who are chosen by competitive audition, rehearse under ASO conductors and coaches, and give three or more public concerts each year.
In addition to the ASYO, the ASO's educational programs include the Talent Development Program, which develops young minority players on an individual basis through coaching and mentoring by ASO musicians, and Young People's Concerts, which provides an educational experience for students from preschool through secondary school.
High school and college students can meet ASO musicians and tour Symphony Hall in conjunction with the orchestra's regular concert series. Orchestra members also volunteer their time to take music into Atlanta-area schools on a regular basis.
The Atlanta Symphony Associates (ASA) is the orchestra's volunteer support organization. Originally founded in 1945 to handle ushering, program books, and other aspects of concert production, it has grown into a broad-based group of dedicated volunteers who raise more than $1 million annually for the ASO through such projects as the Decorators' Show House, Atlanta Symphony Ball, Sleighbell Luncheon and Fashion Show, Annual Fund Campaign, and sales of their own cookbook, Sounds Delicious.
The ASA also brings classical music into the lives of more than 40,000 children and adults annually by presenting an Adult Education and Meet the Artist series, ushering for children's concerts, and orchestrating outreach projects. They host ASA Nights at the Symphony and the ASYO Annual Ball, as well as appreciation events for ASO musicians, chorus, and staff.
Present and Future Plans
The orchestra gives more than 300 performances annually, including its principal classical subscription series, pops concerts in Symphony Hall, Chastain Park Amphitheater, and Encore Amphitheater, family and children's programs, free summer parks concerts, and out-of-town performances throughout Georgia and farther afield.
It is supplemented by the all-volunteer Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus of 200 voices, winner of eight Grammy awards for Best Choral Performance, and the elite ASO Chamber Chorus of 40-60 voices.
The choruses were founded and trained by Robert Shaw, widely revered as the dean of American choral directors, and are now directed by Norman Mackenzie.
The ASO recently completed a major fund-raising drive to increase its endowment funds by $40 million, in order to support its continued growth and its many community-based programs.
There is growing momentum and consensus that it’s time to either build a new concert hall or drastically refurbish the existing Symphony Hall at the Woodruff Arts Center.