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Symphony regrouping after Cheung departure

Altoona Symphony Board of Directors Vice President Rita Sangiorgi (left) wishes outgoing director Teresa Cheung well after her announcement that she was stepping down. Mirror photo

Leaders of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Directors described the organization’s parting with music director and maestra Teresa Cheung as “amicable” and they are looking to the future by formulating a multi-year strategic plan focused on attracting younger patrons and attendees.

ASO board President C. David Kimmel and board member George Sackandy discussed the ASO’s future plans this week after Cheung announced her departure at an outdoor performance at Lakemont Park on Monday.

Former ASO conductor Nicholas Palmer has agreed to assist with five of the seven tentatively scheduled dates, according to Sackandy, who emphasized these will be full symphonic presentations and not the pops concerts Palmer has conducted each spring the last three years.

Guest conductors will be used for the two dates that conflict with Palmer’s schedule.

Palmer serves as music director and conductor of the Lafayette Symphony in Indiana, and the North Charleston POPS in South Carolina.

Palmer

Altoona Symphony Orchestra member Melanie Ramsey has played in the viola section of the symphony for more than 25 years and serves as the musician representative to the board of directors.

“I am so grateful to Teresa for what she has done for me, to help me grow as a musician, and how much she has given to us,” Ramsey said. “She elevated our symphony artistically, while growing stronger relationships with our community.”

Audible gasps and some boos met Cheung’s announcement at the concert, according to a recording provided to the Mirror by the ASO.

“People were just flabbergasted, that’s the best word to describe the reaction,” Ramsey said.

In an email Friday, Cheung expressed gratitude for the opportunities she had while with the ASO, since she assumed the baton in 2008.

“Our mission to help build a community through great music would not have been possible without their generous contributions. The Altoona Symphony Orchestra is blessed with vibrant and discerning audiences who have continuously inspired and encouraged us with their patronage and participation,” she wrote.

Cheung didn’t answer questions about her future plans.

The ASO recently hired Rick Vanevenhoven, a former CFO and vice president of finance for Sheetz, to serve as executive director. He replaces Pamela Snyder Etters, who resigned earlier in the year. Snyder Etters took an executive director position with a statewide arts organization, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.

ASO supporter and Penn State music professor Timothy Melbinger of Hollidaysburg said Cheung will be missed.

“She brought a wide variety of music to our audience, always with rhythmic precision and a wide emotional range in every concert,” he said.

Sackandy, whose wife, Karen, is a symphony violinist, said Cheung challenged the orchestra with her selections of music many hadn’t played before.

“The symphony is in the best financial position it has ever been in over the last 40 years,” Kimmel said. Kimmel, an advocate for long-term strategic planning, wants to see more diversification “in all ways” among symphony members and its audience.”

Attendees at ASO concerts are primarily older, so attracting younger age groups means showcasing “creative, out of the box” collaborations and offerings. “We need to hear the voices of younger people,” Kimmel said.

The symphony is directed by a board of 17 volunteers from the region. Its annual open meeting will be held June 16 at ArtsAltoona at 2212 Sixth Ave.

Melbinger said highlights under Cheung included an organ concert at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Curve games and massive choral collaborations such as “Carmina Burana” and Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony,” to stage-filling showstoppers like Respighi’s “Roman Festivals” and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Scheherazade” and Holst’s “The Planets.”

Kimmel and Sackandy praised Cheung for her community outreach, which prior to the pandemic featured a day-before-the-concert luncheon where residents could meet ASO musicians and guest soloists. The board is looking at collaborative opportunities that might exist with colleges and universities in the region, Kimmel said.

Melbinger credited Cheung for her work with diverse age groups, such as children’s choirs, high school groups, Penn State Altoona students and many local amateurs and professional ensembles.

Cheung also established a symphony youth orchestra, and the board intends to continue and enhance such outreach to the next generation, Kimmel said.

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