The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra is now in its 56th year as the leading performing arts organization in Maryland’s capital city. Featuring 70 professional union musicians who perform for audiences of all ages, the mission of the Symphony is to produce, present and promote memorable symphonic music that increases the awareness, enjoyment, and appreciation of music for all ages throughout the region.
An anchor among Annapolis arts and culture organizations for over 50 years, the Symphony provides memorable cultural experiences to residents of the region. The Symphony not only contributes to a vibrant cultural community, but it also generates economic impact for the region.
Like many regional orchestras, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra began with a small group of musicians with a desire to start a local Annapolis group to play classical music. Gilbert McNew, a young local musician and native Annapolitan, and his co-worker Rowe Steel practiced during their lunch hour. The group grew to three members with the addition of Lt. Cdr. Morrison who worked with the Naval Academy Band, and the three began practicing at Morrion’s home in downtown Annapolis.
To recruit more musicians, Mr. McNew, while purchasing the group’s sheet music at Academy Music on West Street, asked the store-owner to contact him if any musicians expressed an interest in joining an ensemble. Soon after, area newcomer John E. Bornhoeft was in Academy Music asking if there were other musicians in town, as he was an experienced violinist who had enjoyed playing previously with other community orchestras. Mr. Bornhoeft and Mr. McNew connected and the group grew quickly, adding talented young musicians playing a variety of instruments to include strings, woodwinds and percussion.
The growth of the ensemble created a challenge when the musicians were not all able to see the first violin tapping his foot to keep time, making it obvious that they were in need of a conductor. Mr. McNew, a graduate of Annapolis High School and member of the school’s orchestra, asked his former band leader, Kenneth W. Page to take up the baton for the group. Mr. Page, a well-respected civil leader and Music Director for the school, attended a couple of rehearsals and in 1961 agreed to be the Annapolis Civic Orchestra’s first Music Director.
The sixth and current Music Director, José-Luis Novo, joined the Annapolis Symphony in 2005. As one of Spain’s most promising young conductors, Mr. Novo combined his artistic excellence, innovative programming, and collaboration with some of the world’s top guest artists into extraordinary artistic growth, enthusiastic reviews, and audience excitement.
During Maestro Novo’s tenure, the Symphony has performed debut concerts at Strathmore Hall and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. He was also critical in leading the Annapolis Charter 300 Young Composers Competition, an international competition for young composers to culturally celebrate the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Annapolis’ city charter in 1708. The winning piece, Tri-Sattawat (Three Centuries) by Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen, was recorded live during the concert The recorded piece was included on the Symphony’s first commercial CD and the competition earned the 2008 ASCAP Adventurous Programming award.
The Annapolis Symphony has been fortunate to host multiple Composers-in-Residence during Maestro Novo’s time. In 2005, through the Orfeo Alliance, the Symphony hosted composer Michael Abels as its Artist-in-Residence and commissioned Mr. Abel’s work, Outburst for an Orchestra, which had its world premiere at the opening of the 2005-2006 season. In 2011-2013, the Symphony was honored to host Latin Grammy award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank for a two-year residency, made possible through a Music Alive Composer-in-Residence grant. The ASO was one of five orchestras nationwide awarded the prestigious Music Alive grant to support this residency.
During the summer of 2014, the auditorium at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts underwent a major renovation to improve both the listening and performing experience and quality. These improvements, most especially the stage extension and acoustic shell, brought dramatic improvement to the sound of our orchestra. Renovations of the space were completed in 2015.
Throughout the years, support from our community has been critical to the longevity of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. Ongoing support from patrons, corporate and individual donors and foundations, and the State and County Arts Councils have enabled the orchestra to grow in quality and excellence. Additionally important has been the strong leadership of staff, Board, musicians, and Maestros, each building on what their predecessors created. These extraordinary individuals have been able to not only visualize, but to actually realize the orchestra’s potential to be an outstanding regional symphony and a valued member of the community. Through their leadership and seemingly limitless commitment to the Annapolis Symphony, they have developed an organization that continues to meet the highest standards.