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The ASO at 60 – Then and Now: Women Leading the Way

The ASO at 60 - Then and Now: Women Leading the Way

By Lea Hurt

This season, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra marks its 60th year as the leading performing arts organization in Maryland’s capital city. Its history is rich, from the genesis of a loosely structured community orchestra in 1962, to the nationally recognized 21st century American orchestra of today. Pivotal in this evolution is the leadership and contributions of women, both on and off stage. From boardroom and administration leaders to composer and musicians, the ASO thrives with the talent and dedication of women in the arts.

Key in this journey is the forward-thinking operational moves brought about by women in the role of Board Chair and Executive Director. Twenty-five years after its formation, the ASO still relied on volunteers to execute administrative and patron service functions. Enter Anna E. Greenberg, who in 1987 was voted Board President (a role now referred to as Board Chair). She began a series of administrative initiatives to move the ASO to the ranks of professional orchestras across the country.

Greenberg brought on Patricia Edwards as Executive Director, making Edwards the first professional employee of the symphony. Edwards established an office in Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and mastered the business of day-to-day operations. Together, Greenberg, Peter Bay (then the ASO Music Director) and Edwards expanded the concert season, doubled the symphony’s budget, increased ticket sales, and instituted a program of salary enhancements for musicians. Edwards, who passed away in January 2021, set the standard for future Executive Directors. Her daughter-in-law, Katie Edwards, recently joined the Board of Directors continuing the family legacy of support.

Anna E. Greenberg was the third woman to fill the role of Board President/Chair. The first was Alice Burt in 1981 who also played the cello in the ASO for many years. Burt was succeeded by Betty Wright Baird Tilghman from 1984-1987. In 2005, Board Chair Anne Potter and Search Committee Chair Kathleen Eisenhart led the way to bringing Maestro José-Luis Novo to Annapolis as music director after a 2-year search.

The 2018 opening of the Annapolis Symphony Academy, one of the ASO’s most significant educational mission expansions, was shepherded from vision to completion during the tenue of Board Chairs Karen Smith, Laurie Berman, Jane Casey, and Jill Kidwell. The Academy, led by ASO Concertmaster Netanel Draiblate, provides high level music education to students of all cultural and economic backgrounds while addressing the under-representation of musicians of color in the classical music field. Financial aid, tuition waivers and scholarships are available. Students are taught by ASO musicians, and orchestral activities are led by Artistic Director José-Luis Novo.

 

So notable is the stature of ASO board leadership, that Symphony Magazine, the national publication of the League of American Orchestras, sought out current Board Chair Jill Kidwell and past Chair Jane Casey for the article “Passing the Baton,” (Spring 2021), on leadership transitions and what they foresee in the future. This article placed Kidwell and Casey in league with board leaders from the larger Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony.

ASO Women Board Presidents/Chairs:

Alice Burt – 1981-1984

Betty Wright Baird Tilghman- 1984-1987

Anna Greenberg – 1987-1990 and 1999-2000

Anne Potter 2005-08

Patricia Edwards 2008-2009

Karen Smith 2014-2017

Laurie Berman 2017-2018

Jane Casey 2018-2020

Jill Kidwell – 2020-present

 

Women have also set the tone for organizational operations over the years. Following Patricia Edwards’ term as Executive Director, three other women have stepped into this role, contributing to the strategic planning and growth of the symphony in the region.

ASO Women Executive Directors

– Patricia Edwards 1987-1996

– Jane Kenworthy 1996-2000

– Tonya Robles 2000-2003

– Katharene Poston Snavely 2011-2013

Not only have women given of their time and talent, but also of their resources. The generosity and support of women philanthropists such as Elizabeth Richebourg Rea, Joyce Pratt, Jane Campbell-Chambliss, Marguerite Pelissier, Cherie Loustaunau, Michele Manganaro, and countless others have made it possible for the ASO to grow from an all-volunteer group in the 1960s to today’s vibrant orchestra with 70 professional musicians performing a variety of concerts for over 30,000 people in person each year, and countless others through the symphony’s streaming services.

In celebrating ASO’s women visionaries, we also recognize the vast support system that made this 60-year milestone possible: women who volunteer to keep the music playing.

“Women volunteers were the manpower that made the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra what it is today. Before the ASO had an office in Maryland Hall, so much of the orchestra business was conducted over kitchen tables throughout the city. Once there was an office, women volunteers were working there almost every day. Without them, I can’t imagine where we would be.” – Anna E. Greenberg, ASO Board President, 1987-90 and 1999-2000

 

Prior to the 1987 opening of ASO’s office in Maryland Hall, work was conducted in private homes by a corps of primarily women volunteers who handled tasks such as box office operations, fund raising calls, mailings, and other operational necessities.

The Friends of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (FASO) was established in 1964. According to records from Jim Cheevers (ASO Board Chair 1990-1993) the first nineteen presidents of FASO were women. Its primary goal is to raise funds to support music education programs of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. FASO members regularly volunteer time and energy at symphony events and elevate the symphony’s standing in the community

Women have also played a role wielding the ASO baton. In 1984, Deborah Freedman was hired as Assistant Conductor under Peter Bay. Karen Lynne Deal was tapped as assistant conductor from 1986-1991.

In 1991 a woman took the podium as ASO Music Director. Gisele Ben-Dor, a veteran of the international concert circuit, brought her sophisticated programming to a fascinated Annapolis audience during her tenure from 1991-97. Ben-Dor was among those who broke the classical music glass ceiling as conductors in the US. Maestra Ben-Dor is currently Conductor Laureate of the Santa Barbara Symphony and Conductor Emerita of the Boston Pro-Arte Chamber Orchestra.

The significance of women in the classical music field is by no means limited to operations. Throughout the years, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra music directors have sought out and featured works by women composers. This season is no exception.

“Society is reexamining what equality truly looks like,” said ASO’s current Artistic Director Maestro José-Luis Novo. “When we look at ourselves in the symphony orchestra world, we see a strong and growing presence of performing musicians who are women, yet not as much for women composers and conductors. Consequently, during this ASO 60th anniversary season we purposely made the decision to seek out compositions by talented women for each of the Masterworks programs.  We will have the opportunity to hear a range of symphonic works from females who pioneered the field like Florence Price, the first prominent African American woman composer, through well-established composers such as Jenifer Higdon and Gabriela Frank, to rising stars of today, like Stacy Garrop and Jessica Hunt. Their unique perspectives will add richness and depth to the symphony experience, and we are extremely excited to share their music with our audience.”

In tonight’s Masterwork performance, you will hear Pandora Undone by Stacy Garrop, a full-time freelance composer living in Chicago. Garrop’s music is centered on dramatic and lyrical storytelling. Notable past commissions include My Dearest Ruth for soprano and piano with text by Martin Ginsburg, the husband of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When former music director Peter Bay returns on November 12 for the ASO’s Masterworks 2 concert, the program will feature the sonic splendor of the Low Brass Concerto by Jennifer Higdon. Higdon is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. She is a major figure in contemporary classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto and a 2020 Grammy for her Harp Concerto.

Masterworks 3 on March 4 brings the Concertino Cusqueño by composer/pianist Gabriela Frank, who was the ASO composer in residence from 2011-2013. Frank was included in the Washington Post’s list of the 35 most significant women composers in history. Born in Berkeley, California to a mother of Peruvian/Chinese descent and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish ancestry, Frank explores her multicultural heritage through her compositions.

A rare treat for Masterworks 4 “Novo’s Rite of Spring,” is the performance of the Mississippi River Suite by Florence Price (1887-1953), an early African American composer of note. Her strong, distinctive works draw primarily on her ancestry and appealed to a cross-section of musicians in her day. The Mississippi River Suite, written in 1934, is “the music of a woman with so much range she has nothing to prove, everything to demonstrate.” (Harmony Holiday, “The Missing Black Note”, Oxford American Magazine)

Within the same program, violinist Leticia Moreno joins Maestro Novo for Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin. Moreno, a native of Spain, is an exciting, versatile violinist who captivates audiences and critics with her charisma, virtuosity, and interpretive force.

The grand finale of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s milestone year is the world premiere of a 60th Anniversary Commission by Jessica Hunt of Baltimore, MD. As a scholar and educator, Hunt serves as an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at The Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. In her work as a composer, Hunt’s primary goal is to seek emotional resonance in the rhetorical dialogue between herself, the audience, and the performer by creating eclectic works that explore the aural and syntactical intersections between theatre, narrative, sound, truth, and fiction.

The 60-year journey of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra is a classic study of an organization developing and valuing the contributions of women. Women volunteers became leaders. Women leaders became donors. Women musicians grew in number and women composers gain much-deserved recognition. The women mentioned here are only a fraction of those who have made in indelible mark on the ASO. We celebrate their contributions and, understanding that there is no such thing as absolute success in equality, we continue efforts to do more. The synergy of women and men in artistic performance, administrative leadership, volunteer support and visionary philanthropy is the foundation of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the light leading us to the next 60 years.

Lea Hurt is an accomplished PR professional and a longtime Annapolis resident.