A2SO @ 90
Making music for all life's seasons
by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
From the August, 2018 issue
"Quality, quality, quality," says Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra executive director Mary Steffek Blaske. "I don't know how many times this word has been said, but this guy really means it." She's pointing to Arie Lipsky, A2SO music director and conductor.
"This is a quality-sensitive community," says Lipsky. "Ann Arbor is a hub for the best professional orchestras in the world. So we are lucky to be here, but our audience--which is the same audience--comes to expect the same experience as with the Berlin Philharmonic."
What started as a small mom-and-pop orchestra in 1928, with just five people who wanted to play symphonic music, will be celebrating its 90th season this year. Founded as an all-amateur organization, A2SO performed many free concerts at Hill Auditorium and the band shell at West Park before becoming a professional orchestra in 1986 with conductor Carl St. Clair.
Since joining A2SO in 2000, Lipsky--whom Steffek Blaske calls "the most collaborative of conductors"--has helped develop and expand the symphony's education programming and community outreach. The symphony now puts on kinderconcerts at libraries for toddlers and preschoolers; instrument petting zoos at schools, farmers markets, and festivals; classroom concerts at area schools; daytime concerts for elementary and middle schools; and side-by-side concerts where students share a stand with a professional musician. It also provides performance opportunities for U-M piano doctoral students; pre-concert lectures; and chamber concerts at senior centers--often featuring the visiting guest artist who performed at Hill Auditorium that Saturday, plus cookies. Add the patrons attending the symphony's Mainstage performances, plus pops, family, and holiday shows at Hill and the Michigan Theater, and the symphony reaches 88,500 community members each year.
For A2SO's ninetieth season, Lipsky says, "Almost every [Mainstage] concert has a piece with the number nine in it." It launches with Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), with Adrian Wyard's original visual choreography, projecting images and video in real time. Other nines include Haydn's Symphony No. 90 and the ninth symphonies of Mahler, Mozart, Beethoven, and Shostakovitch. Other treats are Mozart's Requiem with community and high school choirs, a concert featuring the music of Harry Potter, and everyone's favorite, Holiday Pops with Santa.
"Other orchestras say 'Our audience is dying,'" says Lipsky. "But our audience is not dying. People will come back at different stages in their life. By having opportunities at all points in your life, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra will be there."
[Originally published in August, 2018.]
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