Celebrating the ASO’s 85 years

The Altoona Symphony Orchestra is rejoicing Saturday in the decades of music it has performed since its inception.

The ASO will present “85 Years of Musical Traditions” at 7:30 p.m. at the Mishler Theatre.

The opening concert of the 2013-14 season is “dedicated to the Altoona Symphony, celebrating its 85 years of history of performing and serving Central Pennsylvania since 1928,” Maestra Teresa Cheung said in an email.

“It began as a humble string quartet, and gradually evolved into a community/volunteer orchestra, all the way to a present day professional regional orchestra. This is a celebration of the orchestra’s progress, and a tribute to all the hard working people that have dedicated [themselves] in building this great ensemble.”

The concert’s musical selections – Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture, Felix Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, and Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius – are “all about coming into one’s own,” Cheung said.

The first selection is “the opening number for a very ‘naughty’ opera by Mozart,” and was written when royals still ruled over society,” Cheung said. It is “about Figaro, a mere servant outwitting and rising above the count that he was serving. It symbolizes the humble beginning of ASO.”

The second selection, the violin concerto, “is one of the most important and popular concertos in the repertoire, and definitely [is the] most often played,” she said. “It is a late work by Mendelssohn, written for one of the greatest violinists of his time. We are so proud to feature our own concertmaster Andrew Sords with this work so our audience will have a chance to get to know the talents that we have in our orchestra today.”

Sords is the ASO’s concertmaster, leader of the strings section.

“Andrew is a young, talented and multi-faceted musician trained in the United States,” Cheung said. “He is fun and versatile, and loves working with young people. We are very fortunate to have him on board.”

Sords feels the collaboration with Cheung, “a wonderful conductor and a great friend,” is going to be “very exciting,” he said in an email.

“I’m thrilled to be playing the Mendelssohn concerto for this ASO’s opening concert,” he said. “It’s a concerto I’ve been playing since middle school, and I enjoy ‘rediscovering’ it for each subsequent concert.”

The international musician, who has played the violin since first grade, has performed as soloist with nearly 150 orchestras worldwide.

According to his online biography, among other upcoming performances elsewhere, Sords will headline the 2014 Moscow Mozart Festival and will make his solo debut with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s what I love doing, and [I] can’t see myself changing this path anytime soon,” he said.

Sords is in his third year with ASO.

He finds ASO audiences “to be enthusiastic and responsive,” he said. “I will be doing a recital at the Cathedral [of the Blessed Sacrament, Altoona] on Nov. 3, and hope to meet much of Altoona’s music-loving community over these two shows.”

Saturday’s concert will close with “the monumental” Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius, Cheung said.

“The work was written in 1901, right when Finland was struggling to maintain its own voice, literally during a period of Russian sanctions of the Finnish language and culture,” she said. “The symphony has always been hailed as the ‘Symphony of Independence’ of the Finnish people, a symphonic Tour de Force and a symbol of the spirit of the people – a fitting ending to our evening’s program.”

But it is not the end of the celebration of local art for the 2013-14 season.

“Our entire season is dedicated to the various genres of arts in the Altoona area: music, theater, dance and visual arts, and how music relates to each of them,” Cheung said.

The next concert, “Music Tells the Story,” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Mishler Theatre.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.