Among the oldest community orchestras in the country, the ACO was founded in 1977 by Mac Payne with sponsorship from the Austin Community Schools for the purpose of offering a recreational performing experience to musicians in the community. The organization started with a small group of string players that has since grown and evolved into the full symphonic orchestra it is today. The Orchestra's first public performance was on September 14, 1978 in the ballroom of the University of Texas Student Union.
- In Tune with Austin Since 1977 -
The Orchestra's first community-based Board of Directors was elected for the 1985-86 season in order to increase visibility, financial assets, and community support. In 2000, Board member Mac Payne successfully acquired a $50,000 endowment from the Webber Family Foundation to support the Pearl Amster Youth Concerto Competition. This endowment continues to provide long-term support for the competition and enables the ACO to award college scholarships to the winners. Another important achievement for the Board was the reception of a grant from the Austin Community Foundation which helped fund the 2001-2002 community outreach concerts. In October 2003, local music critic Michael Barnes noted that the ACO was "the leading candidate for Austin's most improved music organization."
The ACO's first Music Director was James Johnson, a graduate student at the University of Texas. When Mr. Johnson graduated and left the Austin area, the baton was passed to Robert Jones, who led the Orchestra through its early years and encouraged its expansion. Over subsequent years, the ACO has been fortunate to have been led by many fine Music Directors:
- Jay Dean - Conductor of the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony. DMA from the University of Texas.
- William Girard - Assistant Conductor of the Stuttgart Opera Company (Germany). DMA from the University of Texas.
- Vincent Fritelli - Former concertmaster of the Austin Symphony. Violin Professor at the University of Texas.
- Daniel Long - Fulbright Scholar. Conducted the Toronto Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, and Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.
- Lois Ferrari - The ACO's current Music Director. DMA from the Eastman School of Music. Music Professor at Southwestern University.
Past Guest Artists
The ACO has had the pleasure of hosting many illustrious guests over the years. The following are a few of these notable performers.
- Peter Bay - Music Director of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Former Associate Conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic.
- Jennifer Bourianoff - Prominent violinist and assistant concertmaster of the Austin Symphony. Former ACO concertmaster.
- Bob Cannon - Principal Trumpet of the Austin Symphony.
- Walter Castle - Lead baritone with the Metropolitan Opera (New York) for twenty-six years.
- Lauren Lane - Actor and co-star of CBS' series The Nanny. Theatre professsor at Texas State University.
- Anton Nel - Internationally renowned pianist and Naumberg Prize winner. Piano professor at the University of Texas. Former faculty member at the Eastman School of Music.
- Kiyoshi Tamagawa - International concert pianist and accompanist for Eugene Fodor. Piano Professor at Southwestern University.
- Jess Walters - Voice Professor at the University of Texas. Former Principal Baritone at Covent Gardens (London) for fourteen years.
- Hai Zheng - Acclaimed soloist and the first Chinese cellist invited to the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Faculty member at Southwestern University.
- Pearl Amster Concerto Competition - Since its inception in 1984, the Pearl Amster Concerto Competition has honored 67 talented young musicians.
- Composition Competition - In 2005, the ACO honored its first Composition Competition winner: Rob Deemer. Deemer's Lacrymae was was selected as the winning composition out of twelve submissions by nine Texas composers.
Bits of Trivia
- From 1996-1999, the ACO presented a full dramatic production of Amahl and the Night Visitors with full choir and costumed performers at the Scottish Rite Theatre. In December 1997, the production toured three cities in Belize and was the first such performance in that country.
- For more than ten years, the ACO provided the music for the Austin Independent School District's annual Music Memory Contest, sponsored in part by KMFA radio.