For more than 80 years, the Altoona Symphony Orchestra has delighted audiences with a variety of musical selections. The upcoming season promises to be no different, but this year has a few new twists.
This season features the symphony's first opera, "Cavalleria Rusticana,'' on Oct. 27, which Maestra Teresa Cheung characterized as "one of the best out there,'' and she likened it to reality shows on TV.
"As a matter of fact, it is the first verismo opera ever created,'' she said. "Sounds like a fancy term but if you have every watched 'reality TV' you will have no problem understanding it. I call it 'reality opera' because it is exactly just that!''
The Altoona Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestra Teresa Cheung, will begin its new season with a free concert at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Canal Basin Park in Hollidaysburg.
The season actually opens at 6 p.m. Sept. 1 with a free concert at Canal Basin Park in Hollidaysburg sponsored by the Hollidaysburg Arts Alliance.
The symphony also has a new executive director, Pamela Etters, who is a musician and artist with a degree in fine arts whose murals can be seen in the Altoona area. She has done extensive work in fundraising and working for nonprofit groups, so she said her new job is a natural fit for her.
"This was just the perfect step for me,'' she said. "I'm very passionate about bringing arts to the community.''
On March 2, the symphony will return to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament for the second year in a row to accompany the Cathedral Choir and the State College Choral Society in performance of the "Durufle Requiem.'' The choirs will also sing other musical selections.
The main attraction at the Cathedral, in addition to its beautiful setting, is the church's rare pipe organ, said Etters.
"We've actually attracted a lot of people from miles and miles around who've come just to hear that organ,'' she said.
Cheung said she has performed in many churches, including St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. She agreed that people who attend concerts at the Cathedral are drawn there because of the setting and the organ.
"Our audience members that came to our last concert at the Cathedral in Altoona would tell you that there was something extra special about hearing music in the space,'' she said. "There is something that is very spiritual about a place like the Cathedral and what a privilege it is for us to have the opportunity to perform there again!''
Etters said her goal is to have one of the five concerts this year filled to capacity. Usually the symphony performs at the Mishler Theater in downtown Altoona, which seats about 800 people. The symphony's subscription rate is "right on track currently,'' although she'd always like to see more participants, Etters said.
"It's pretty much what we expected, although we have had a few new ones come in,'' she said.
In addition to the traditional holiday concert at Christmastime that will feature students from Frankstown Elementary School and Bellwood-Antis Middle School, performances during the season will focus on such classic composers as Brahms and Schumann.
Kicking off the first concert at the Mishler is the "1001 Nights'' performance on Oct. 6 featuring the music of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov. The famous piece, "Scheherazade,'' by Rimsky-Korsakov will paint pictures of Arabian nights in the minds of the audience while the strains of "Ma mere l'oye'' by Ravel will charm them with thoughts of Mother Goose.
"The first concert is about sound and color,'' Cheung said. "Both Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov are considered superb orchestrators in classical music. Simply put, the audience is going to have a treat with some of the most awesome music written for orchestras!''
The last concert of the season will feature the music of Brahms and Schumann, who was Brahms' musical mentor. Cheung described their relationship as "legendary' 'and said the final concert of the season is about "friendship and inspiration.'' She further explained her reasoning behind her choice of music for the last concert from these two well-known composers.
"It's very exciting to explore the music legacy that has been passed down from one person to another, and how we can find our musical links to the past,'' she said.
Adult tickets are $33 and student tickets are $13. College students must show current ID. Tickets are available online at or at the Mishler Theater box office, 1208 12th Ave., Altoona, Pa., 16601.