ArtsATL > Music > Preview: With Symphony Hall off limits, ASO musicians set free concerts at Kennesaw State

Preview: With Symphony Hall off limits, ASO musicians set free concerts at Kennesaw State

KSU's intimate Performance Hall will host the ASO musicians.
KSU's intimate Performance Hall will host the ASO musicians.
KSU’s intimate Morgan Hall will host the ASO musicians.

In the immediate wake of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s formal announcement on Monday that its orchestral concerts through November 8 have been canceled, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association (ASOPA) and Kennesaw State University’s School of Music have announced that the orchestra’s locked-out musicians will perform a pair of free back-to-back concerts at KSU’s Bailey Performance Center this Friday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. 

The musicians decided to perform a tandem pair due to Morgan Hall’s relatively limited capacity of 620 seats in contrast to that of Symphony Hall, which seats 1,762. 

Under its original plans for the 2014–15 season, the ASO was to have performed one of their opening-week concerts at KSU that very same night in what was supposed to have been a new creative partnership between KSU and the ASO. That partnership was announced by ASO general manager Julie Fish in January, when the ASO performed at KSU for the very first time.

After the the School of Music received notice from ASO management of the cancelation due to unresolved labor negotiations, KSU moved to invite the locked-out musicians to perform.

“We are proud of the partnership we have formed with the ASO, and we are disappointed that the concert that we originally planned has been canceled due to the ongoing negotiations,” Michael Alexander, interim director of the School of Music, said in a press release. “We continue to hope for a positive resolution. As a school of music, our job is to support great music and provide an educational opportunity for our students. These free concerts will help us provide a positive outlet for all involved during this difficult time.”

Michael Palmer

Friday’s concerts will include Beethoven’s Overture to “Egmont” and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. Michael Palmer, a familiar name to many patrons of the orchestra, will conduct. Palmer began his career in Atlanta as assistant, then associate, conductor at the behest of then music director Robert Shaw. He was with the ASO for 10 years before being appointed music director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra in 1977. 

In 2004, Palmer returned to Atlanta, where he is professor of orchestral studies at Georgia State University. For over 20 years Palmer has been the artistic director of the Bellingham Festival of Music. Palmer led two performances by ASO musicians during the previous lockout two years ago.

“It has been a wonderful experience to see how the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has grown in artistic stature and depth over the years,” says Palmer. “from the rapid and stunning changes that took place during the Shaw years, through the significant contributions of his successors, Yoel Levi and Robert Spano. This, of course, artistically is also due to the fact that the personnel of the orchestra has remained relatively stable throughout those years of growth. This has given each new artistic leader a platform upon which to continue to build.”

In addition to the concerts, the musicians will also hold an open dress rehearsal, exclusive to students and faculty, on Friday afternoon.

The ASO musicians have already been involved in two performances completely outside of the auspices of the Woodruff Arts Center and its Atlanta Symphony Orchestra division. The first, prior to the lockout, was an outreach performance at Drew Charter School for its PTA meeting; the second this past Monday at Terminal West, which drew a standing room only capacity crowd.

Although a state university’s involvement as a host venue is new twist in the ongoing contentions between labor and management, this concert will not be a solitary occurrence, according to the musicians. In its press release, ASOPA announced that the new ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation has immediately begun actively fundraising to pay for more free public concerts for as long as the lockout, which began September 7, may last.

ASO president and CEO Stanley Romanstein said Wednesday that he welcomes the non-ASO concerts. “We fully support the community engagement of the orchestra during this work stoppage,” Romanstein said. “One of the keys to our future success is community engagement all over the metro area, but we’ll need flexibility in the orchestra’s contract in order to afford it.”

The ASO press office has confirmed that the nonorchestral ASO Presents concerts, such as the Best of Jethro Tull and Susan Boyle, among other special events at Symphony Hall, have not been canceled and are still scheduled to take place.

The WAC, ASO and ASO Presents, however, are all currently included on the International Unfair List of the American Federation of Musicians. The AFM’s bylaws state that “members shall not render musical services for organizations, establishments or people who have been placed on the International Unfair List.”

At this juncture, exactly how this will affect these currently scheduled performances remains unclear. Professional musicians who belong to AFM are forbidden from performing at venues on the International Unfair List.

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