The mission of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is to inspire, engage and educate the community through the live performance of great music.
Using the performance tradition of the symphony orchestra in innovative ways, the ASO engages the community through performances, collaborations, education, and outreach and enriches the community’s artistic and cultural life by presenting music and artists who might otherwise not be seen or heard in the area.
Long before Alaska’s statehood, Anchorage had an orchestra. The ASO was first formed in 1946 when seventeen local musicians began meeting once a week to share their interest and enthusiasm for creating an organized community orchestra. This founding group made its first public appearance in December 1946, when it joined the Anchorage Little Theatre to perform Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The first full concert presentation occurred in May of the following year, with member Peter Britch named Conductor in 1948. By 1949 the orchestra had 32 members, many of these from the ranks of the 752nd division at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
The pioneering spirit of those who called Alaska home recognized the value great music brings to all people and believed that a vibrant and growing city requires a vibrant and permanent orchestra. Since then, the ASO has grown and progressed along with the remarkable community we are so proud to serve. Britch has been followed by talented leaders who’ve made ASO what it is today: Maurice Dubonnet, David Loebel, Stephen Stein, and George Hanson. Current Music Director Randall Craig Fleischer recently celebrated his twentieth season and earned the distinction of being our longest serving Music Director.
The ASO has provided the musical foundation in our community for other musical arts organizations that followed. And while that contribution alone is important, its greater legacy is the incredible music shared with hundreds of thousands of people over the last seven decades.
Generations of young people have been introduced to the orchestra and many have chosen music as part of their life path. The ASO has been a companion to our city and our citizens in times of celebration and solace. And today, we’re proud to be recognized as “the musical cornerstone for our community.”
The ASO is a resident company of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. It has, since its founding, collaborated with local arts organizations to serve our community and enrich Alaskans’ lives: Anchorage Concert Chorus, Alaska Chamber Singers, Anchorage Opera, Alaska Youth Orchestras, Alaska Children’s Choir, Anchorage Festival of Music, UAA Department of Music, Anchorage School District, Alaska Native Heritage Center, and many more. Of special note, for the past 30 seasons, ASO has proudly joined Anchorage Concert Association in their production of The Nutcracker.
As one of Alaska’s major arts producers, the ASO views the orchestra as a cultural and community resource committed to serving the public in the broadest possible scope. We create programs to provide new pathways of access for our community to experience its orchestra. As the curator of an artistic tradition, the ASO recognizes the challenges of a rapidly changing world and the implications those changes have on art, education, entertainment, philanthropy, and marketing. We have and continue to make innovations and adjustments to our concert offerings and our business model to ensure that our art form remains relevant in our culture and sustainable for generations to com
Classic Concerts: The ASO performs five Classic Concerts featuring a full orchestra of 80 local musicians in performance with renowned guest artists each season. These concerts spotlight the masterworks from well-known and emerging great composers. An ASO concert can just as easily include an overture from Beethoven and the first symphony written by Florence Price, the first female African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra. The orchestra is comprised of community members from a full spectrum of vocations bound together by their love of music. Many have trained at the finest conservatories and universities, and have performed throughout the world. But as they were in 1946, your ASO musicians are also your neighbors, friends, and co-workers.
Pops Concerts and Innovation: While the ASO honors our classical heritage, we also welcome opportunities for innovative programming, to cross artistic genres, and to build bridges by honoring musical traditions of various cultures. ASO concerts have featured bagpipers, Alaska Native drummers and dancers, Navajo dancers, Native American flute, ancient and contemporary Hawaiian hula dance, baroque dance, indoor fireworks, visual projections of art from the Permanent Collection at the Anchorage Museum, visual projections of NASA footage, African-American step dancing, jazz influenced works and fully-staged grand opera. Our Pops concerts help welcome a new audience to the ASO with music from Frank Sinatra, Queen, the Beatles, Journey, ABBA, John Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and Disney animated films. And our annual Silent Film night has become one of the hottest tickets in town — during January, no less.
Musica Nova: Committed to adding the “artistic commentary of our own generation” to the symphonic repertoire, the ASO commissioning club, Musica Nova, commissions works by contemporary composers. Over fifteen seasons, this group has commissioned or co-commissioned works that have moved beyond our concert hall – one was performed in Carnegie Hall, another by the Boston Pops, and one by Alaska’s own John Luther Adams was the impetus for his Become Ocean – which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014! We are proud to have commissioned works from two Alaskan composers, two concertos from jazz royalty Chris Brubeck, a Veterans Day salute from retired military band arranger Paul Murtha, music by Grammy-award winning composer and jazz artist Billy Childs, and music to commemorate the Permanent Collection at the Anchorage Museum.
Neighborhood Concerts: In February 2011 the ASO initiated a new musical outreach program – a free one-hour “Neighborhood Concert” performed at an area high school for community members living in the area. Neighborhood Concerts have been performed at Bartlett, West and Chugiak High Schools for approximately 600 patrons each concert (many of whom were young children!) These concerts are wonderful afternoons of music, sharing, and community building.
Family Concerts: For several years, the ASO has scheduled a Family Concert with reduced ticket prices that is the perfect introduction to orchestral music for children. The new and treasured classics we perform might be familiar to children, or might especially appeal to them through instrumentation, style, origin (family film), and more. Recent concerts included Flight of the Bumble Bee, Lion King, Harry Potter, Star Wars, William Tell Overture, and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Children of all ages (and their families) love the show. One hour prior to the concert The Music Man hosts an instrument “petting zoo” in the lobby with ASO musicians encouraging aspiring musicians to try out string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. It’s wildly-entertaining and educational!
Music For Our Neighbors: The ASO believes great music should be accessible to everyone. To that end, we provide tickets for underserved and underrepresented members of our community to attend concerts free of charge. Additionally, we donate hundreds of free tickets each season to non-profit groups to assist with their fund raising efforts and to increase public awareness of the ASO. Finally, in addition to flexible and affordable subscription packages, military, student, youth, and senior ticket discounts build an audience that truly reflects our community.
Young People’s Concerts: More than 7,000 Anchorage and Mat-Su public, private, and home school students attend ASO Young People’s Concerts (YPC) each season. These concerts, created for fourth, fifth and sixth grade students, introduce them to symphonic music and hopefully inspire them to participate in the instrumental music program as sixth graders. A nominal fee is charged to attend; however, no student is ever turned away due to an inability to pay. In collaboration with Anchorage School District’s music educators, we create study materials provided to music and classroom teachers, and host teacher workshops to assist educators in preparing students for their concert experience. This isn’t a field trip; YPC is an immersive musical education opportunity for our local students.
Coaching In The Schools: Each year, the ASO and local school officials work together to coordinate ASO musicians sharing their musical expertise with students. Since 2004, ASO musicians have spent more than 1,900 hours in Anchorage and Mat-Su middle and high school band and orchestra classrooms. Most recently, the ASO has expanded the program to the 6th grade Honor Orchestra with the goal to help students develop fundamental skills earlier, enhance their early experiences playing, and encourage them to continue their music study.
Lunch and Learn: Maestro Fleischer leads “Lunch and Learn,” an informal brown bag lunch meeting on the Fridays prior to the concerts. These sessions are co-sponsored by the Anchorage Public Library and are held at the Loussac Library. These learning opportunities are invaluable as Maestro Fleischer connects with our audience and shares his personal and professional reflections on upcoming ASO concerts. Like our popular Words on Music pre-concert lectures conducted by ASO Education Consultant Susan Wingrove-Reed, these programs are attended by both new and long-time patrons who gain great insights into ASO programming.
Visiting Talent Workshops: In an effort to develop new, young, and local musicians, the ASO provides workshops and masterclasses free of charge to members of our community. Visiting artists and composers meet with local high school and university students in small classes or groups to share their musical expertise and their professional perspectives.
Cassetta Scholarship: Each spring the ASO coordinates the Mary and Lucian Cassetta Scholarship Competition, and awards a $1,000 scholarship to a high school senior who displays talent, dedication to music and a serious commitment to advanced study in a recognized music school or music camp. The competition is open to both instrumentalists and vocalists. Previous winners include current or former ASO musicians Kara Leigh-Bray, Eunice Kang, and Bryce O’Tierney.