History of the Orchestra
THE BEGINNING TO 1988
The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1943 under the leadership and vision of Miss Neale Landen, a music teacher at George Washington High School. Initially an amateur group of about 40 musicians, the ASO sought to perform mostly impromptu concerts at a variety of venues around the city. The Symphony was officially incorporated on August 6, 1954 with an annual budget of around $1200. Dr. Wendell Margrave, director of the Washington Musical Institute, took over the baton in 1948 and led the group until the mid 1960’s.
In 1966, as demand for a more formal programming schedule arose, the orchestra hired George Washington University professor Dr. George Steiner as Music Director. Under Steiner’s influence, the ASO introduced its first subscription series along with its Lollipop series of educational concerts, performing at Albohm Auditorium on the campus of T.C Williams. During the 1980’s, in response to the growing need for volunteers, the Symphony Orchestra League of Alexandria (SOLA) was founded along with the Mary Graham Lasley Scholarship Competition.
Following the retirement of Dr. Steiner, the ASO held an extensive national search for a new music director. Chosen for the position was award-winning Oberlin Conservatory of Music Valedictorian Kim Allen Kluge.
1988 TO THE PRESENT
Under Kluge’s direction during the 1990′s, the ASO became a professional orchestra. The orchestra rapidly developed a reputation of artistic excellence programming through its highly successful concerts at the Kennedy Center. In partnership with the City of Alexandria, the ASO significantly expanded its programs and concerts in the schools and initiated the popular annual City Birthday Celebration outdoor concerts.
In 2001, the ASO gave the inaugural concert at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Center, which became its new home. In the Schlesinger era, the ASO emerged as a leader of the Washington DC inter-arts movement, forging artistic partnerships with many of the region’s leading cultural institutions including The Smithsonian Institution, The National Gallery of Art, The Washington Ballet and The Shakespeare Theatre. Crossover concerts featuring visual art, dance, and film have come to symbolize Maestro Kluges efforts to engage the community of Northern Virginia in all avenues of artistic expression.
During the Schlesinger era, the ASO has performed with many of the world’s leading musicians including Midori, Peter Serkin, Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, Richard Stoltzman, Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman, Lynn Harrell and Branford Marsalis. The ASO is comprised of the finest professional freelance musicians in the Washington DC area, and regularly receives rave reviews from the Washington Post and other local newspapers.
Moving forward into the new millennium, the ASO continues to make education a centerpiece of its mission. In 2003, the ASO introduced the Children’s Arts Festival featuring inter-arts activities, workshops and performances for young children. Maestro Kluge has held a variety of masterclasses in performance, conducting and composition throughout the DC region. He has also instituted side-by-side collaborations, in which local high school students perform with the professional musicians of the ASO. The ASO and SOLA proudly present the Mary Graham Lasley Scholarship Competition and the newly-founded Kluge Young Composer’s Competition, underscoring the Symphony’s commitment to nurturing young talent and creativity.
ASO’s newest education initiative, ASO Sympatico, was launched in 2013. ASO Sympatico is a before and after-school music program at John Adams Elementary School and Patrick Henry K-8 (Alexandria City Public Schools) underwritten by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Inspired by the El Sistema method, the program teaches musicianship as well as important life skills. ASO Sympatico was honored as a 2015 Yale Distinguished Music Education Partnership.
In 2018, the ASO welcomed James Ross as its fifth Music Director. Maestro Ross has introduced new concert experiences, audience engagement and nontraditional venues and formats to the community, attracting new attendees and growing the ASO family.