Do You Know Your Local Symphony?

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Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, a brief history

ALEXANDRIA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AT THE RACHEL M. SCHLESINGER  CONCERT HALL AND ARTS CENTER (Courtesy Photo).
ALEXANDRIA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AT THE RACHEL M. SCHLESINGER
CONCERT HALL AND ARTS CENTER (Courtesy Photo).

The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1943 under the leadership and vision of Miss Neale Landen, a music teacher at George Washington High School. Initially an amateur group of about 40 musicians, the ASO sought to perform mostly impromptu concerts at a variety of venues around the city. The Symphony was officially incorporated on August 6, 1954, with an annual budget of around $1200. Dr. Wendell Margrave, Director of the Washington Musical Institute, took over the baton in 1948 and led the group until the mid-1960’s. 

In 1966, as demand for a more formal programming schedule arose, the orchestra hired George Washington University professor Dr. George Steiner as Music Director. Under Steiner’s influence, the ASO introduced its first subscription series along with its Lollipop Children’s series of educational concerts, performing at Albohm Auditorium on the campus of T.C. Williams. During the 1980’s, in response to the growing need for volunteers, the Symphony Orchestra League of Alexandria (SOLA) was founded along with the Mary Graham Lasley Scholarship Competition for college-level musicians. Following the retirement of Dr. Steiner, the ASO held an extensive national search for a new music director. Chosen for the position was award-winning Oberlin Conservatory of Music Valedictorian Kim Allen Kluge.

The first real national search for a conductor for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra happened in the late 80's and a young man, the valedictorian, was chosen from Oberlin College, Kim Allen Kluge. (Photo courtesy of Kim ALlen Kluge collection).
The first real national search for a conductor for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra happened in the late 80’s and an energetic and ambitious young man, the valedictorian, was chosen from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Kim Allen Kluge. (Photo courtesy of Kim ALlen Kluge collection).

Under Kluge’s direction during the 1990’s, the ASO became a professional orchestra. It rapidly developed a reputation for artistic excellence and innovative programming through its highly successful concerts at the Kennedy Center. In partnership with the City of Alexandria, the ASO significantly expanded its programs and concerts in the schools and began performing in the yearly Alexandria Birthday Celebration outdoor concerts.

In 2001, the ASO gave the inaugural concert at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Center, which became its new home. In the Schlesinger era, the ASO emerged as a leader of the Washington DC inter-arts movement, forging artistic partnerships with many of the region’s leading cultural institutions including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, the Washington Ballet and the Shakespeare Theatre. Crossover concerts featuring visual art, dance, and film have come to symbolize Maestro Kluge’s efforts to engage the regional community in all avenues of artistic expression.

During the Schlesinger era, the ASO has performed with many of the world’s leading musicians including Midori, Peter Serkin, Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, Richard Stoltzman, Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman, Lynn Harrell, Sarah Chang, and Branford Marsalis. The ASO is comprised of the finest professional freelance musicians in the Washington DC area and regularly receives rave reviews from the Washington Post and other regional newspapers.

The ASO continues to make education a centerpiece of its mission. In 2003, the ASO introduced the Children’s Arts Festival featuring inter-arts activities, workshops, and performances for young children. SOLA sponsors the Mary Graham Lasley Scholarship Competition, now in its 41st year, underscoring the Symphony’s commitment to nurturing young talent and creativity.

ASO Sympatico, the ASO’s El Sistema-based music education program was founded in 2012 and completed its second full school year in June 2016.  Serving 120 students before and after school at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, ASO Sympatico is a growing partnership between the ASO and the Alexandria City Public Schools.  ASO Sympatico offers before and after-school music education programming for K-5 students, free of charge to any student.

Following the end of Maestro Kluge’s tenure in 2016, the ASO entered a search process for its next Music Director and Conductor.  With 170 applicants from around the world, the ASO is excited to begin its next chapter and to celebrate its 75th Anniversary in 2018-2019.