Alabama Symphony Orchestra
The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, based in Birmingham, is the principal concert orchestra in Alabama. The orchestra has its offices at 3621 6th Avenue South and gives most of its performances at UAB's Alys Stephens Center.
The orchestra operates with a budget of just over $5 million per year, and has been able to balance that budget since its 1997 reorganization. The orchestra is led by music director and principal conductor Carlos Izcaray and its operations by executive director Curt Long.
The first regular symphonic group organized in Birmingham was the Birmingham Civic Symphonic Orchestra, led by Dorsey Whittington, which performed in the 1930s and early 1940s with the sponsorship of the Birmingham Music Club. The orchestra ceased operations during World War II.
In 1949 a revived orchestra, under the new Civic Symphony Association, was assembled. New conductor Arthur Bennett Lipkin took the podium for the revived Orchestra's first performance on November 1, 1949. Whittington rejoined the group for their fourth of five concerts that season, performing as the soloist in Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto.
The community gave the Orchestra wide support through the 1950s with the Vanguards and Symphonettes being formed. The Orchestra was a central participant in the Birmingham Festival of Arts since its 1951 founding. By 1956 the group became a fully-professional concert orchestra under the name Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. A youth orchestra with its own developmental program was initiated by concertmaster Herbert Levinson.
Lipkin retired in 1960 and Arthur Winograd from Julliard succeeded him as conductor. He was succeeded, in turn, by Amerigo Marino, most recently leader of the CBS Orchestra, in 1964. Two years later the Birmingham Orchestra absorbed the Alabama Pops Orchestra. The group took up residence in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in 1973.
In 1979 the Orchestra recognized its growing importance to the state by changing its name to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. By that time the Orchestra was playing a full subscription series and a pops series at the BJCC and also touring the state for a total of 30 concerts per year. Isaac Stern joined the orchestra for a special celebration on its 50th anniversary in 1983.
The following year was tumultuous, with the Alabama Symphony Association announcing that it could not afford to produce a concert season. The Young Men's Business Club led a last-ditch fundraising effort that did allow the Orchestra to continue under a three-year contract with its players. Paul Polivnick became the music director in 1985.
Funds ran dry again in 1993, and the Orchestra was forced to declare bankruptcy. A new Alabama Symphonic Association was organized and purchased the assets of the orchestra. The Symphony Volunteer Council was formed from the former Women's Committee and continued the annual Decorator's Showhouse to benefit the Orchestra.
In 1994 Elton B. Stephens joined the group's Board of Directors as Chairman. He and President Scotty McCallum led the organization of a new ASO, with a $10 million endowment fund and a new contract with a core group of 48 musicians.
On September 11, 1997 the new Alabama Symphony Orchestra debuted under conductor Mark Gibson, artistic advisor Gustav Meier and concertmaster Daniel Szasz. An international search for a new full time music director led to the hiring of Richard Westerfield, who brought a new artistic credibility to the group, peaking with his final performance of Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony in May 2004. Executive director Paul Ferrone resigned in October 2006.
After Westerfield's departure, associate director Christopher Confessore took up the baton while a search for a new permanent conductor was undertaken. Justin Brown was named as the ASO's music director in November 2005 and stepped down in 2012, after which he remained involved as "music director laureate" as a succession of guest conductors led the ensemble. A permanent successor, Carlos Izcaray, began his tenure in August 2015.
- Ruders, Poul. "Light Orchestra" (recorded November 2006 at the Alys Stephens Center, Justin Brown conducting) on the 2007 release Music of Poul Ruders, Vol. 5. Bridge Records 9237
- Kraft, William. "Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra" (Thomas Akins, timpani; Paul Polivnick conducting) and "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" (Mona Golabeck, piano; Paul Polivnick conducting) on the 1999 release William Kraft: Concertos. Albany Records TROY302
- Kraft, William. "Interplay for Cello and Orchestra" (Warren Samples, Jr, cello; Paul Polivnick conducting) on the 1992 release William Kraft: Contextures II: The Final Beast. Elektra/Nonesuch 979229-2
- Peck, Russell. "The Glory and the Grandeur" and "Signs of Life" (Paul Polivnick conducting) on the 1991 release Russell Peck: Orchestral Music. Albany Records TROY040
- Alabama Symphony Orchestra (2004) "The History of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra" - accessed October 21, 2006
- Alabama Symphony Orchestra website