THE ALBANY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (ASO) was organized as the Albany Symphonette in 1964 by a group of individuals who enjoyed playing good music and foresaw the potential for an orchestra in southwest Georgia. Conducted by Mr. E. L. Ziegler, the first concert was held on May 18, 1965, in the gym of Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church. In January 1967, Dr. Edward A. Tarratus, Arts Division Chairman at Albany Junior College, became the orchestra’s second conductor.
During the 1967 –1968 Season with the help of the Junior League of Albany, the Albany Symphony Association 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.
Dr. Charles DeLaney, professor of music at Florida State University, was appointed Music Director and Conductor of the ASO beginning with the 1979–1980 season. He commuted to Albany for rehearsals and performances for nine years.
In 1987, in a bold step toward continuing the development of a professional symphony orchestra, the Albany Symphony Association voted to employ a resident Music Director and Conductor. Following an international search, Dr. Claire Fox Hillard was engaged beginning with the 1988 – 1989 Season. Hillard charted an ambitious artistic course for the orchestra, which included the use of regional, national, and internationally renowned soloists; and the performance of a more diverse and inclusive repertoire by the orchestra. 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. The ASO has also received multiple recognitions for adventurous programming by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publications (ASCAP) and the League of American Orchestras.
ASO concerts were held in the Albany High School Auditorium until 1990. The orchestra then moved into the renovated historic Albany Municipal Auditorium performing a Gala re-dedication concert with Albany native Ray Charles on March 6, 1990. Currently, the orchestra performs a variety of concerts each season, which include classical masterworks; Pops Concerts; Educational and Family Concerts, as well as collaborations with diverse organizations and agencies in the region. The orchestra has participated with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce in its hosting of the Red Carpet of Georgia tour. The ASO has partnered with the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s Elder Abuse Awareness program and fundraiser for Meals on Wheels; Albany’s annual King Celebration; Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Gala Fundraising event with Debbie Reynolds; the Southeast Alabama Dance Company’s Nutcracker production; and a performance with world-renown harpist Ann Hopson-Pilot in collaboration with the Albany Civil Rights Institute. As a service to the community, ensembles from the Albany Symphony perform regularly throughout the region as a part of the orchestra’s Symphony a la carte program, making groups of any size available for all occasions.