Spotlight: The Georgia Symphony Orchestra
Based in Kennesaw, the newly named Georgia Symphony Orchestra hopes to expand its reach to other parts of the state.
A Special Announcement
In a quiet nook off Stilesboro Road, the Murray Arts Center looks over the city of Kennesaw. Passersby may notice its unique architecture, the many large rectangular windows, the pointed rooftop, or the rounded surface that protrudes from the side of the building.
But some may be unaware of the musical presence that resides there, one that has taken root in the local community and begun to transcend the center’s red brick exterior.
It's during a special Saturday evening performance that the former Cobb Symphony Orchestra divulges its new name for the first time.
“Frankly, we’ve outgrown our name,” announces chairman of the board Todd Youngblood at the concert’s end. “It no longer reflects who we are, what we’re becoming.”
“We’d like to formally introduce you to our homegrown Georgia Symphony Orchestra.”
A Brief History
The Cobb-based orchestra traces its beginnings back to 1951 in Arthur F. Moor’s home at 383 Church Street in Marietta. Then known as the Marietta Music Club, the group originally consisted of only six members.
Club member Mrs. Howard Miller would later promote the group as the Marietta Concert Orchestra. The name would change yet again, evolving into the Marietta Symphony and then, the Cobb Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra grew both in size and quality under the leadership of various members. Betty Shipman Bennett served as conductor from 1955 until her retirement in 1989. She was followed by Steven Byess, with current conductor and musical director Michael Alexander taking the reigns in July of 2004.
Under Alexander’s leadership, the orchestra’s chorus, jazz and youth programs have flourished. Since its founding in 2006, the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra has become the largest youth orchestra program in the southeast with two full orchestras, two string orchestras, several ensembles and two choruses. The program serves youth from over 100 schools, with some youth even participating from out-of-state.
The orchestra's educational focus has also grown with the founding of the Georgia Center for the Arts in 2008, a joint effort between the orchestra and the Murray Arts Center to provide musical instruction to students of varying ages and skill levels.
With all the programs combined, about 1,000 people currently participate in the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, says Alexander.
"We’re very excited to continue to be sort of cutting edge in how we present art,” he says. “We’re very proud to be sort of producing high art that is accessible to all.”
High Art at a Local Level
Indeed, a night out at the Georgia Symphony Orchestra is an immersive theatrical experience, from the center’s decorated halls and displays of artwork, to the black ties and evening dresses of concert goers, to the welcoming of orchestra volunteer, Daniel Stensland, whose curled moustache greets patrons at will call.
Then, of course, there’s the music itself.
It’s a packed house Saturday evening at the Murray Arts Center as patrons take in the joyous sounds of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony paired with the resonating mood shifts of Mozart’s Requiem.
Conductor Alexander’s lean frame commands the 85-person orchestra, his movements at times sharp and clean, then slow and smooth, changing with the ebb and flow of the music.
As the notes build, the heels of his black shoes lift off the platform, the music too rising toward the high, cavernous ceilings of Kristi Lynn Theatre, the sounds of bellowing cellos and horns emphasized by wood-crafted sound enhancers.
The sides of the 577-seat theater also include large wooden panels with fabric panel inserts to control the desired amount of ring, along with "flutter free" sound absorption panels in the back.
Led by choral director Bryan Black, the 100-plus members of the Georgia Symphony Chorus join in for Requiem, their voices adding a resonating depth to the orchestra, both in its sounds and silences.
As the concert comes to an end, the orchestra receives a standing ovation from patrons.
Following Youngblood’s formal introduction of the orchestra’s new name, banners bearing the new logo descend in front of the audience, and the Georgia Symphony Orchestra gives its very first performance, a fitting rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”
After the concert, patrons and performers mingle in the hall for a celebratory reception, and Alexander says goodnight to guests as they head home for the evening.
He say's he's happy with the evening's events and excited for the new direction the orchestra is taking.
The name change is reflective of the organization's growth in recent years, and is also representative of the orchestra's future plans to extend its reach outside of Cobb County to other parts of the state, he says.
Alexander notes that the orchestra is in the process of organizing a performance at Reinhardt University in North Georgia with even more opportunities both in and outside Cobb County currently in the works.
But the name change doesn’t mean the orchestra will be forgetting its local roots in Cobb. The "homegrown" Georgia Symphony Orchestra will remain based in a quiet nook off Stilesboro Road within the halls of Kennesaw's own Murray Arts Center.
For more information on the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, please visit their website at http://georgiasymphony.org/index.htm