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Albany symphony wins National Endowment grant

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany Symphony Association has been awarded a $10,000 Challenge America Fast Track grant by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Claire Fox Hillard, music director and conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, says the money will be used to help fund the symphony's 14th annual Celebration Concert set for Mt. Zion Church on Gillionville Road, probably in July 2011.

Hillard said he's not ready to disclose the name of the celebrity who will appear at the event because the details have not been finalized, but he said the individual has agreed to come to Albany.

"We're working on this celebrity person type event," he said. "It's probably going to be in the summer, most likely in July."

The symphony grant was one of two $10,000 awards that the NEA gave to Albany organizations in Fiscal Year 2011. Albany State University was also awarded one that will be used to bring the Dance Theater of Harlem Ensemble to the Albany Municipal Auditorium on Feb. 1.

"It's a fabulous first-rate dance troupe," Hillard said of the ASU event, adding the landing twin NEA grants was a coup for the city given the tight economic times. "It's quite an achievement to think that two of those grants are coming to a city the size of Albany."

Hillard said the symphony has successfully applied for the NEA funding to help defray the cost of its Celebration Concert for five or six years in a row now.

"I think the thing they (NEA officials) like about it is we're taking the orchestra out of its normal environment and putting it in another environment," he said, adding the Celebration series, which is in its 14th year, is a "sincere effort" to bring the symphony to underserved parts of the local population.

The Celebration Concert, which has free admission, started out as an extension of Black History Month focus on African-American contributions to the music arts. But the concert has since been performed primarily in the spring.

Hillard said the idea behind moving the concert to other months is that celebrating African-American contributions to American culture shouldn't be restricted to a single time period. "We wanted to show that you didn't have to do that just in February," he said.

The Celebration Concert is traditionally performed at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and 2011 event will be the first at the church's new location at Gillionville and Westover roads. The church will have room for about 2,000 people, a little over twice the capacity of the symphony's regular home at the Albany Municipal Auditorium.

The symphony's next performance will be at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday when it conducts its free holiday concert, the Peppermint Pops, at the auditorium.