The Cobb Symphony Orchestra will announce tonight that it is changing its name to the Georgia Symphony Orchestra. Michael Alexander, its music director and conductor, said the change will finally align the whole organization under one rubric and signals a natural growth in the 60-year-old organization.
The official name change will follow tonight’s CSO performance at Kennesaw’s Murray Arts Center, which is billed as a “people’s choice” program, with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Mozart’s Requiem and “a special announcement to follow the concert.”
Founded in 1951, the orchestra has already changed names several times, from the Marietta Concert Orchestra, part of the Marietta Music Club, to Marietta Symphony Orchestra and then, as its audience and ambition spread, Cobb Symphony Orchestra.
With its incorporation in 2006 of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus — attracting some 200 young musicians from 10 counties — and with other smaller performance and educational activities under the “Georgia” name, the organization’s leaders felt that the mother ship needed to carry that statewide banner as well.
“ ‘Georgia Symphony Orchestra’ will enable us to spread more comfortably into North Georgia,” said Alexander, “with concerts and to attract more young musicians, and not sound so regional, like we only ever play in and for Cobb County. We’ve grown to much more than that, and we’ll have a lot more potential going forward.”
The conductor continued: “Closing off this chapter in the orchestra and chorus’ history with Mozart’s Requiem felt like the right way to go, like we were saying goodbye to a beloved institution — the name at least.”
That’s the public announcement. There have been less-than-private frustrations too, from inside the organization. In recent years and months, some vocal Cobb County residents have been hostile to the Cobb Symphony, which receives no Cobb County government funding. No one would speak on the record to me about this, but sources have said that phone calls and emails accusing the Cobb Symphony of promoting a cultural agenda “outside the mainstream,” including the support of homosexuality, have been dispiriting to members of the organization. It is unclear what the specific complaints were about, according to the sources. (One had hoped this was buried old news, but it’s again relevant: In 1993, Cobb County passed a resolution condemning the “gay lifestyle.” Among other penalties for this resolution, the 1996 Summer Olympics avoided holding events in Cobb altogether, which became a national embarrassment.)
Sam Olens was the Cobb County Commission chairman for eight years and is now Georgia’s attorney general. Asked about the situation, Olens replied by email: “The history, caused by a handful of people, is over 25 years old. Cobb has been more generous to the arts than any other community in our State ever since.”
For the orchestra, there is a public perception that an arts group with “Cobb” in its name receives some kind of support — whether financial, logistical or promotional — from county government. Thus one element of the name change is to seem more inclusive. That new attitude might well win the Georgia Symphony Orchestra new friends across the metro region and the state. We’ll add details to this story as they come.