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A Golden year for music

The Albany Symphony Orchestra, which was organized in 1964, will launch its 50th performance season in September. (July 7, 2013)

The Albany Symphony Orchestra, which was organized in 1964, will launch its 50th performance season in September. (July 7, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. — As the Albany Symphony Orchestra prepared for its 2013-14 performance season that starts in September, there were some questions as to the best way to observe the milestone.

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Music Director Claire Fox Hillard says symphony officials opted to try to make each concert in the 50th anniversary season special rather than bring in a big name for a single performance. (July 7, 2013)

There was some significant sentiment given to the idea of bringing in a big-name star to perform with the symphony to draw more attention to the golden anniversary. But Claire Fox Hillard, music director for the orchestra, said there also was concern that if a popular star performed with the orchestra this season, what would the symphony have to do the next season to maintain interest?

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Su Chang, playing an ancient-style Chinese folk instrument known as a guzheng, will perform with the Albany Symphony at its season debut concert on Sept. 29 at the Darton State College Theatre. (July 7, 2013)

“We decided, let’s try to do some special things along the way,” Hillard said in an interview Tuesday. “Let’s do what we do and do it well.”

The result is an expanded schedule of performances that brings the orchestra to a closer association with Darton State College and includes Sunday matinees at Americus and Tifton. The popular Sunday performances at the Albany Museum of Art will continue as well.

THE BIG 50

These are the concerts scheduled for the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s 50th season.

SEPT. 28

East Meets West

2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Darton Theatre

Guest performer: Su Chang, guzheng

OCT. 20

Symphony@the Museum

4 p.m.

Albany Museum of Art

Guest performers: Telsa String Quartet

NOV. 16

Beethoven in Blue Jeans

7:30 p.m.

Albany Municipal Auditorium

Guest performer: Awadagin Pratt, piano

DEC. 7

Celtic Holiday Celebration

2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Darton Theatre

Guest performers: Mithril, Celtic/World music group

JAN. 19

Symphony@the Museum

4 p.m.

Albany Museum of Art

Guest performers: Scirocco Wind Quartet

FEB. 15

Roots of Jazz

7:30 p.m.

Albany Municipal Auditorium

Guest performers: Classically Jazzed Quartet with Ken Trimmins

MARCH 2

Symphony@the Museum

4 p.m.

Albany Museum of Art

Guest performers: Tallahassee Bach Parley Ensemble

MARCH 14

“The Orchestra Sings” Family Concert

7:30 p.m.

Albany Municipal Auditorium

Special event: Orchestra instrument petting zoo at 6:30 p.m.

APRIL 12

Evening of Italian Opera

2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Darton Theatre

Guest performers: Combined choirs of Albany State University, Darton State College, Georgia Southwestern State University and Macon State University; the Albany Chorale; the Southwest Civic Chorus; soloists.

NOTE: Encore performances have been scheduled for East Meets West at 3 p.m. Sept. 29 at Abrahama Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton and for Evening of Italian Opera at 3 p.m. April 13 at the Rylander Theatre in Americus.

The schedule calls for the symphony to perform three subscription concerts on Saturday evenings at its usual home, the Albany Municipal Auditorium at 200 N. Jackson St. Two subscription Saturday evening performances and mid-afternoon matinees will be performed at the Darton Theatre on the Gillionville Road college’s campus, as will the symphony’s annual Christmas holiday season concerts.

“We’re reaffirming our partnership with Darton, which has been our partner for practically the entire 50 years,” Hillard said.

Lark Ledbetter, executive director for the symphony, added that Darton’s theater also was “a more intimate setting” for the concerts.

Orchestra officials are hoping the Albany Symphony’s flex plans, which include five packages ranging in price from $50 for the Sunday AMA series to $200 for prime seating for the complete nine-performance season, will appeal to concert-goers. Individual tickets will also be available.

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The Albany Symphony will dress down for its second performance set for Nov. 16 at the Municipal Auditorium. "Beethoven in Blue Jeans" will feature pianist Awadagin Pratt. (July 7, 2013)

“It’s a little bit of a change. We’re hoping that our intent (to better fit performances in people’s busy schedules) is clear,” Hillard said. “We’ve got all types of performances, and there’s a package for you. ... If you want them all, you can get the grand package.”

The season opens with the first Saturday concert on Sept. 28 with a 2:30 matinee and 7:30 evening performance at Darton, which will be followed Sept. 29 with a 3 p.m. encore performance at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

“This first concert is really interesting,” Hillard said. It features internationally renowned artist Su Chang performing “Identity: Zhongshang Zhuang” on a Chinese folk instrument known as a guzheng, which dates back 3,800 years.

“We received a grant from a Chinese manufacturer that allowed us to bring this artist and her instrument for the concert,” Hillard said.

The “Identity” piece was written by American composer Michael Gordon Shapiro and Chinese producer/composer Victor Cheng to include both Eastern and Western musical traditions. Eastern influences will also be heard from the orchestra’s performances of Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber and his Overture to Die Freishutz.

The venue shifts to the Museum of Art on Oct. 20 for the 4 p.m. Willson Chamber Music Series featuring the Telsa Quartet.

At 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Municipal Auditorium, the orchestra will exhibit a decidedly casual dress day look for Beethoven in Blue Jeans, when the symphony will be accompanied by acclaimed pianist Awadagin Pratt.

Pratt is “a Beethoven specialist,” Hillard said.

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Mithril, a Celtic music group, will join the Albany Symphony for a pair of performances on Dec. 7 when the orchestra presents its annual Christmas holidays concerts. The shows, at Darton State College Theatre, will be a "Celtic Holiday Celebration." (July 7, 2013)

Hillard is asking orchestra members — and those attending — to wear jeans to the performance. “We’re going to do the orchestra in blue jeans again,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll break down any remaining barriers about classical music.”

On Dec. 7, the ASO will return to Darton for a pair of performances at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. that will add some different holiday flare. Mithril, which orchestra officials say is one of the most sought after Celtic/World music groups on the concert series scene, will join in the Christmas season performance with the orchestra — Celtic Holiday Celebration.

That is a departure from the longtime Peppermint Pops series that was a collection of Christmas songs performed by the orchestra and backed by choral groups, soloists and audience members. The audience participation will continue with Celtic Holiday Celebration.

“If we can get a little bit of a twist on it, people like that,” Hillard said.

On Jan. 19, the Scirocco Wind Quarter will perform at the museum at 4 p.m. with the Willson Symphony@the Museum series.

The orchestra returns to the Municipal Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 as it traces the “Roots of Jazz” with guest performers the Classically Jazzed Quartet with Ken Trimmins. Trimmins, a trumpet professor at Albany State University and member of the ASO, was asked in 2011 to be a cultural envoy to Honduras as a classical trumpet soloist with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. The quartet formed after that and has become popular, with performances planned in the future in China and Italy.

For the concert, Hillard said, “We’re going to trace jazz to its roots in Baroque. ... It’s kind of educational, too.”

The Tallahassee Bach Parrley Ensemble will be at the 4 p.m. March 2 Willson series concert at the Museum of Art, and the orchestra will be back at the Municipal Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. March 14 for “The Orchestra Sings” family concert, which is part of the annual Carnegie Hall Link Up.

The season’s grand finale is at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 12 when the orchestra wraps up the season — almost — at the place where it started, Darton Theatre. An encore performance will be at 3 p.m. April 13 at the Rylander Theatre in Americus.

Hillard said the concerts will feature overtures, choruses, arias, ensembles and highlights from Italian opera, with the orchestra backed by combined choirs of Darton, Albany State, Georgia Southwestern State University, Macon State University, the Albany Chorale and the Southwest Georgia Civic Chorus.

With the different ticket packages available this season, Hillard said he’s hopeful that the orchestra can expand its presence.

“There are multiple choices for people with busy schedules,” he said. “Our philosophy and hope are that more availability will increase demand.”