As the Alabama Symphony Orchestra embarks on its 100th season, musicians who have spent more than a year performing virtually will return to the stage.
Audiences will be invited back into the Jemison Concert Hall at the Alys Stephens Center for live performances when the ASO opens its season Oct. 8 and 9 with a Masterworks concert of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
The orchestra began in 1921 when 52 volunteer musicians established the Birmingham Music Festival and performed in the old Jefferson Theatre.
In the spring, the organization plans to host a free, outdoor concert to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The concert originally was scheduled to take place this year but was postponed due to the pandemic.
The new season will feature a shift in programming that celebrates diversity, according to ASO Music Director Carlos Izcaray.
“Over the past 18 months, we had time to take a look at our operations, including how we could better reflect the world outside the concert hall,” Izcaray said. “Beginning this season, I’m spearheading a reworked programming model that increases visibility of traditionally underrepresented composers with a focus on American composers, women composers and composers of color, by elevating these works to be performed as equals alongside traditional favorites in our flagship series.”
“We view this season as just a starting point, with an eye toward increasing this representation in future seasons and extending the guiding principles of this imperative throughout the organization,” Izcaray added.
Throughout the season, audience favorites will return as guest performers, including violinists Tessa Lark and Francisco Fullana and pianist Terrence Wilson. Each are past winners of Avery Fisher Career Grants, administered by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The season will conclude May 24 with a special Concertmaster & Friends performance called Anthems of Alabama, celebrating the orchestra’s centennial by highlighting music and musicians from Alabama.
Birmingham’s own Bobby Horton will be featured at the concert. Horton is one of the nation’s leading authorities on music from the Civil War period and has previously collaborated with the ASO in its education programs as well as its orchestra as a member of Three on a String.
Planned Safety Precautions
Izcaray said the centennial season “will be a memorable season as the orchestra and audiences navigate a return to the live concert experience. We’ve programmed joyous, uplifting and familiar favorites that we know will provide comfort and enjoyment during this time when our patrons are emerging from the pandemic year.”
With ongoing health concerns in mind, the ASO will reduce venue capacity this season to accommodate social distancing.
“We want everyone to feel safe attending concerts once again, so audience members will observe some updates to the concert experience this season,” said ASO Executive Director Mark Patrick. “We’re moving to digital program books, encouraging digital ticket usage, and, for the time being, we’ll be requiring mask wearing and social distancing at concerts.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked closely with UAB to follow best practices to ensure the safety of our musicians, staff and patrons,” Patrick added. “We hope case numbers will continue to decline and we will eventually be able to ease some restrictions.”
Following the opening performances in October, the ASO plans to host two more installments of its Masterworks concert series before the new year. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be featured Nov. 12 and 13, and Handel’s Messiah will be performed Dec. 17 and 18.
Plans are in the works for the orchestra’s 2021-22 SuperPOPS! season as well as special events and educational offerings.
Tickets to the ASO’s October and November performances are available at alabamasymphony.org.
— Emily Williams-Robertshaw