This year, the Anderson Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 50th season and its 28th year with Dr. Richard Sowers, a professor of music at AU, as music director and conductor.
“It is significant,” said Sowers of his time with the orchestra. “It is so valuable that I can hardly put it into words.”
The orchestra, which was first organized in 1967 by leaders at Anderson College, features around 70 professional musicians, several part-time staffers and one full-time employee.
Although the orchestra’s beginnings were on campus, the organization has been a separate entity for about 40 years. At its start, the ASO performed in Byrum Hall and later moved to Reardon Auditorium upon its completion in 1983. In 1995, the Paramount Theatre in downtown Anderson was restored. Since then, the symphony has found its home at the Paramount.
The ASO performs six to eight concerts per year, with the season beginning in the fall and ending in the spring. In the United States, there are less than 20 orchestras that perform on a 52-week schedule.
According to a study released in 2014 by the League of American Orchestras, audiences declined by 10.5 percent between 2010 and 2014. All across the country, major orchestras have experienced worker strikes and lockouts. The market for orchestras and other fine arts has continued to decline.
“Because symphony orchestras are so expensive, there are some communities where there just wasn’t interest in doing it,” Sowers said. “They’ve gone away. They’ve closed—some of those orchestras in cities that are a lot bigger than Anderson.”
In a community hit hard by the loss of jobs and economic recession, the ASO’s continued success is noteworthy.
“The community, through all the difficult financial challenges, has continued to support the orchestra in big ways,” he said.
The community surrounding the orchestra will be the main focus of the first concert of the season, which will take place on Sept. 23.
“We are inviting back people who have performed with the orchestra over the years that have some kind of Anderson city or university connection,” Sowers said.
Five-time Grammy award-winning gospel singer Sandi Patty will be joining the orchestra for their 50th anniversary concert.
“She is the most well-known person [who will be performing],” Sowers said. “People know her as a gospel singer, but what some may not realize is that about 25 years ago, she started doing some symphonic concerts, where she performed around the country with a lot of major orchestras. The first concert that she did of that music was in Reardon Auditorium with us and with me conducting.
“She will have a big role in this,” he said. Patty will perform six songs, making up a little less than half of the performances.
Byron Plexico, who has been Concertmaster of the orchestra for 25 years, will be performing three pieces from the 1993 film Schindler’s List. “The music is hauntingly beautiful,” Sowers said.
Also making an appearance at the concert will be retired MLB pitcher Carl Erskine, who played for the Dodgers from 1948-1959 and pitched two no-hitters.
“Carl is a treasure for Anderson,” Sowers said.
At the concert, Erskine will perform “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Recent AU graduate, Layke Jones, will sing “The Way You Look Tonight.” Heather Bays, also an AU grad, will be performing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. Local pianist Dr. Randy Frieling, who has performed at Carnegie Hall and in England, Sweden and other countries, will play a piece composed by Gottschalk called “The Grand Tarantelle.”
After the kickoff concert, the 50th season of the Anderson Symphony Orchestra will perform five more shows in its season, including special guests such as Drew Peterson, award-winning pianist; local composer and singer Rick Vale; Jinjoo Cho, 2014 Gold medalist of the Quadrennial Indianapolis International Violin Competition; and Time For Three, who will join the ASO to play their own high-energy arrangements of the Beatles, Katy Perry and more.
A special concert featuring the world premiere of a new composition by Caroline Ahn will be held in York Hall on AU’s campus on Jan. 28.
Sowers is ready for another year with the Anderson Symphony orchestra.
“I consider myself very blessed to have had this opportunity to serve as the conductor of the Anderson Symphony Orchestra,” he said. “It’s been a real joy of my life to be able to make music with these people and to be able to serve the community.”
The concert will be on Sept. 23 at 7:30 pm at the Paramount Theatre.
Students can purchase discounted tickets for Anderson Symphony Orchestra concerts. Tickets can be purchased at www.andersonsymphony.org.