The Albany Symphony Orchestra was organized as the Albany Symphonette in 1965 by a group of individuals who enjoyed playing good music and foresaw the potential for an orchestra in Albany. Conducted by Mr. E. L. Ziegler, the first concert held May 18, 1965, in the gym of Porterfield Methodist Church. In January, 1967, Dr. Edward A. Tarratus, Arts Division Chairman at Albany Junior College (now Darton State College), became conductor. During the 1967-1968 Season, under Dr. Tarratus leadership, and with the help of the Junior League of Albany, the orchestra was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. At the same time an Albany Symphony Guild was incorporated as the “working arm” of the association with 172 charter members.
Mr. Charles DeLaney, professor of music at Florida State University, was appointed Music Director/Conductor in 1979, and he commuted to Albany for rehearsals and performances for nine years. In 1987, in a bold step toward continuing development and deepening commitment, the Albany Symphony Association voted to employ a full-time, resident Music Director/Conductor. Following an international search, Dr. Claire Fox Hillard was engaged beginning with the 1988-89 Season. Hillard charted an ambitious artistic course for the orchestra which included the use of regional soloists as well as artists of national/international reputation. Hillard continues to provide a balance of programming which includes American music, standard orchestral repertory, new music and unfamiliar classics each season. Until 1990 concerts by the Albany Symphony Orchestra were held in the Albany High School Auditorium. The orchestra then moved into the renovated historic Albany Municipal Auditorium performing a Gala Concert with Albany native Ray Charles. This year some concerts, including three matinees, will be performed in Darton State College's Theater.
Currently, the orchestra performs a series of Masterworks Concerts, two sets of Carnegie Hall's LinkUp Concerts for area third through fifth grade students and a Pops concert. In the fall of 1996 the Albany Symphony was a founding member of OPERAlbany, a cooperative project to present live, staged opera in South Georgia. In 1998, the Albany Symphony Association received statewide recognition from the Georgia Association of Arts Agencies for its Celebration Concert performed at Mt. Zion Baptist Church highlighting the achievements of African American musicians in classical music. Additionally, the Albany Symphony has received multiple recognitions for adventurous programming by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publications (ASCAP) and the League of American Orchestras.
The Albany Symphony collaborates regularly with many diverse organizations and agencies in the region. Chamber ensembles perform in three concerts at the Albany Museum of Art. This year, encore performances of the Su Chang, guzheng, and the Italian Opera will be held, respectively, at the ABAC Presents! Series in Tifton and the Rylander Theater in Americus. The orchestra has participated with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce in its hosting of the Red Carpet of Georgia tour. The orchestra has additionally partnered with the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s Elder Abuse Awareness program, Albany’s annual King Celebration, Phoebe Putney Hospital’s Gala Fundraising event with Debbie Reynolds, the Southeast Alabama Dance Company’s Nutcracker production, as well as collaborations with numerous area colleges and universities. The Symphony a la Carte program makes available music for all occasions as a service to the community.
Music Director Claire Fox Hillard
Conductor Claire Fox Hillard brings a unique flair to the podium, establishing outstanding rapport with musicians and audiences alike. His musical mastery and energy elicits the very best from musicians, inspiring them to perform at peak ability, to which audiences respond with great enthusiasm. The Ukrainian News Service observed that “Both ingeniousness and responsiveness were noticed in Hillard’s interpretation…along with the organic combination of relaxation, strictness and consistency.” The Kansas City Star commented “…Maestro Hillard kept a firm command…we were sent away with the energy and excitement that is Mozart’s legacy.” And recently the Abilene Reporter-News said that “…Hillard and the Philharmonic brought passion and purpose to the music.”
Since his European debut in 1994 he has conducted the Karlovarsky symfonicky orchestr and Moravian Philharmonic in the Czech Republic, L’Orchestre Chapelle de Lorraine in Brussels, the Filharmonica “Banatul” and Filharmonica Paul Constantnescu in Romania, the Orquesta Sinfonica de San Pedro Sula in Honduras, the Karkov Philharmonic in Ukraine, the Gdansk Philharmonic in Poland, the National Russian Philharmonic and the Orquestra Sinfonica Caxias do Sul in Brazil. Among the orchestras he has conducted in this country are the Abilene Philharmonic, the West Shore Symphony, the North Arkansas Symphony, the Tupelo Symphony, the Flagstaff Symphony, the Cobb Symphony, the Quad-City Symphony and the Symphony of Southeast Texas.
Hillard’s programming is noted for an exciting blend of major symphonic, choral and operatic repertory including a wide variety of American compositions and the premieres of new works. He has received seven ASCAP awards for his innovative programming. He has worked directly with such composers as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Ulysses Kay, Alvin Singleton, Steven Paulus, Ellen Taffee Zwilich, Samuel Jones and Adolphus Hailstork. Hillard has also collaborated with a wide variety of artists ranging from young classical artists such as violinist Hilary Hahn, Adam Nieman, Stephan Milenkovich, Ransom Wilson, Leon Bates, and Yakov Kassman; to the established artistry of guitarist Elliott Fisk, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and pianist Ruth Laredo; to such popular artists as Ray Charles, actresses Debbie Reynolds, fiddle player Mark O’Connor, and the Billy Taylor Trio.
Hillard received training from many notable conductors of our time including James Dixon, Leonard Slatkin, Pierre Boulez, Maurice Abravanel, Jorge Mester and John Barnett. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hillard began piano and violin studies at an early age and made his conducting debut at the age of 18. At age 25, after earning his masters and doctoral degrees from The University of Iowa, he became one of the youngest conductors ever to be appointed the Music Directorship of a professional orchestra. He has previously served as Music Director of the St. Joseph Symphony, the Missouri Western Philharmonia, and the Meridian Symphony Orchestra.
Maestro Hillard is the recipient of the League of American Orchestra’s distinguished Helen M. Thompson Award “acknowledging his outstanding achievements as a conductor who demonstrates great career potential.” Georgia Trend Magazine has honored him as one of the “outstanding leaders in Georgia,” and the Meridian Area Council for the Arts honored Hillard with its Artist’s Achievement Award for his commitment to enriching the cultural and educational life in east central Mississippi.