In the fall of 1997, a group of Atlanta musicians met to organize the first permanent period instrument orchestra in the Southeast–the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra. The ABO gave its premiere concert in January 1998, and since then the ABO has grown to be one of the best orchestras of its type in North America.
Believing that the most compelling way to present composers’ intentions comes from recreating the sound and style in place at the time the pieces were created, the ABO employs actual surviving instruments and reproductions of Baroque and Classical period instruments in its performances of 17th and 18th century music. Orchestra members believe that the sounds and spirit of historical instruments–Baroque and Classical violin, oboe, flute, harpsicord, cello, bassoon, horn–are better suited than their modern counterparts to the expressive needs of the music of the time of J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Haydn and Mozart. ABO musicians are all specialists in performing music of the 17th and 18th centuries on these instruments; however, all are active as modern instrumentalists, as well.
Under the vision of founding artistic director Lyle Nordstrom and current artistic director and conductor John Hsu, the ABO has developed into an ensemble that draws musicians from across the Southeast and soloists from across the continent and overseas. Guest artists have included many of today’s leading Baroque and Classical performers: violinists Stanley Ritchie, Monica Huggett, Sergiu Luca, and Dana Maiben; Paul O'Dette, lute; Aldo Abreu, recorder; soprano Julianne Baird; Steven Rickards, counter-tenor; oboist Matthew Peaceman; and Baroque Dancers Paige Whitley-Baugess and Thomas Baird have all appeared s soloists with the ABO.
The core of ABO musicians that gather together to rehearse and perform at the ABO’s home at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church are drawn not only from metropolitan Atlanta, but come from university centers from throughout the Southeast and beyond. Our musicians travel to Buckhead from areas as far-flung as Tallahassee (Florida State University), Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill), Bloomington (Indiana University), Murfreesboro (MTSU), Hattiesburg (University of Southern Mississippi), Huntsville, AL, and Valdosta, GA. As needed, the ABO sometimes augments its forces with musicians from such early music centers as Boston, New York, Washington, and San Francisco.
The appointment of John Hsu as Artistic Director in January, 2006 brought new ambition, vigor, focus and direction to the ensemble. Maestro Hsu, as one of the first active and best-known period instrumentalists in the nation, also brought increased national recognition to the ABO. The group expanded its horizons by adding performance on Classical instruments from the time of Haydn and Mozart, with designs from the last decades of the 18th century, just in time to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart.
Musical milestones include two performances of J.S. Bach’s Passion according to St. John (BWV 245), the first in Atlanta using period instruments; the first in Atlanta on Baroque instruments of Antonio Vivaldi’s enduring Four Seasons; the first performance of Charpentier’s Te Deum using a completed orchestration by FSU Musicologist Charles Brewer; the Atlanta period instrument premier of G.F. Handel’s oratorio Messiah; and a year-long 250th Anniversary Celebration of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In addition to its own concert series, the orchestra has also performed a number of concerts in collaboration with other organizations throughout the Southeast, including performances at conferences of the National Flute Convention, the American Musicological Society, and the Southeast Historical Keyboard Society, and in partnership with Emory University, Kennesaw State University, Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, and Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
While centered in Atlanta, the ABO serves the Southeast. Its tours have taken it to such locales as Emory University, the University of Georgia, Florida State University, Clayton College and State University, Oglethorpe University, and Valdosta State University, and to Birmingham, AL, Pensacola, FL, Rome, GA, and Conyers, GA. The orchestra also frequently partners with choral organizations, and has collaborated with such groups as the Emory Concert Choir, Atlanta Choral Artists, the Atlanta Schola Cantorum, Clayton State Collegiate Chorale, Clayton Camerata, Dekalb Choral Guild, the Westminster Choir, Chandler Choraliers, and choirs from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church and Independent Presbyterian Church (Birmingham).
Thanks to the 1997 vision of its Founding Committee, Lyle Nordstrom, Catherine Bull, Jeanne Johnson, Daniel Pyle and Eckhart Richter, the artistry of its musicians, the dedicated work of its board and volunteers, the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra today is looking forward to its celebratory tenth anniversary season in 2007-2008, and to its second decade of serving as the professional period instrument ensemble for the Southeast United States.