Listen up! The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra has a couple more concerts in its 2018-2019 season, but if the seats fill up the way they did last weekend you might want to reserve your tickets now. Almost 900 people attended the orchestra’s performance at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center on Feb. 9, the house was nearly packed at the George Washington Masonic Memorial on Feb. 10, and there is still a chance to see the group in its historic 75th season.
“I think we have a great art scene that can be under-recognized,” said Alexandria City Councilman John Chapman, who took his mother to the concert. “And when folks do find out about something cool like this, they show up in force. It’s really cool to see.”
What’s different this year? The most visible change started at the top, with the naming of the new musical director, Jim Ross, who was hired in August. Ross has been praised by many musicians in the 48-person orchestra for his organizational abilities and thoughtful thinking in his programming. Incidentally, here’s a sneak peek into next year’s season: It’s going to feature women composers.
“We have a great opportunity in Alexandria,” Ross told The Zebra. “Some of the larger orchestras around the country can’t quite afford to take on any pieces that they view as risky. Next season, for instance, we’ll be featuring the work of Florence Price, who was the first black woman composer to have her work performed by any major orchestra, which was the Chicago Symphony in 1932. We’re not doing that full symphony, but we are doing a full piece of hers.”
The Feb. 9 and Feb. 10 performances featured Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 1,” Mozart’s “Symphony No. 38,” Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 1” and Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks.”
Ross, who lives in Mount Rainier, Md., is still getting used to Alexandria. The last six months have been a busy period for him, filling the shoes of longtime musical director Kim Allen Kluge, who left in 2016. Ross’ impressive resume includes stints as the Orchestra Director of the National Youth Orchestra – USA at Carnegie Hall, teaching conducting at the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center and 16 years as a professor and director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The orchestra’s players are all professional, full-time musicians, and many have good vibes with their new conductor.
“I think he’s really trying to take note of issues that we face to try to make it all work better,” said David Lonkevich, who has played flute with the group for 21 years. “When you have a big program it’s hard to squeeze it all in. Adding rehearsal times is helpful for everyone.”
Kathy Mulkahey, a professor of clarinet at George Mason University, has played with the ASO for the last four years.
“I think he [Ross] puts a lot of thought into his programs,” she said. “It’s a fresh approach. I think he really puts a lot of thought into exposing the audience to a lot of different styles and genres and time periods.”
Members of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra will next perform a spring recital at MetroStage on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m., followed by the last shows of the season on April 6 at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Center and at the George Washington Masonic Memorial on April 7.