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.