Established only four years ago as the brainchild of Maestro Donald Portnoy and the Aiken Symphony Guild, the Aiken Symphony Orchestra has come to play a significant role in our city’s cultural life. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the ASO is now poised to expand their position on the local arts calendar by offering nine concerts in their 2019-2020 season.

The kickoff is Sept. 14 with a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony and Edvard Grieg’s perennially popular piano concerto. The latter work, composed by the Norwegian musical genius when he was only 24, will feature guest artist Andrew Tyson. A Durham, North Carolina, native who graduated from both Curtis and Juilliard, Tyson tours extensively in this country and abroad. His recordings feature works by Chopin, Scriabin and Ravel.

The violin takes center stage on Oct. 26 with a performance of Johannes Brahms’ one and only concerto for that instrument. The featured soloist for this particular evening concert will be Jennifer Frautschi, who hails originally from California. Twice nominated for a Grammy – best chamber music performance and best instrumental performance with orchestra – Frautschi has amassed an impressive discography. Besides the Brahms selection, the ASO will also perform that night the second symphony by Jean Sibelius, a 1902 work sometimes called the “symphony of independence” because the composer’s use of Finnish themes despite their prohibition by the country’s Russian overlords was thought by many listeners to capture the Finnish people’s quest for freedom.

An all-Mozart afternoon concert on Nov. 24 will offer a crowd-pleasing variety of the composer’s works, including his 40th symphony, a concerto for flute and harp and a vocal motet. On Dec. 10, the ASO will reprise its performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” which packed the sanctuary at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church last year. Attending the ASO “Messiah” is well on its way to becoming a holiday tradition in Aiken.

Dec. 14 is the date for the annual “Home for the Holidays” concert whose special guests include British musical theater actress Scarlett Strallen, the Aiken Choral Society and the Aiken Civic Ballet. The orchestra will feature works showcasing its string section on the afternoon of Jan. 19 with selections by Barber, Arensky, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.

It’s back to the main stage of the Etherredge Center for the final three concerts of the season. The fabulous, multi-Grammy-nominated Eroica Trio – Erika Nickrenz, Sara Parkins and Sara Sant’Ambrogio – will be returning to Aiken to perform with the ASO Beethoven’s “Triple Concerto.” The Feb. 1 concert will also showcase the composer’s seventh symphony, from which the lively second movement is sometimes extracted and played as a separate concert selection.

Although the March 7 concert takes its title from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” the highlight of the evening will probably be Robert Schumann’s cello concerto with soloist Zlatomir Fung. Of Bulgarian and Chinese parentage, Fung juggles an already-ambitious performance schedule with continuing studies at Juilliard. Although it was never performed during the composer’s lifetime, the concerto is now considered by many to be one of the finest works for the cello; it demands much of the soloist.

The last concert of the season – April 19 – will feature nearly 20 works by Broadway composers. The guest artist for the evening is scheduled to be Debbie Gravitte, who won a Tony award in 1989 in the category of “best featured actress in a musical” for her role in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.”

Tickets are available on the ASO website: www.aikensymphonyorchestra.com. One can also call 803-220-7251.

A recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Humanities, Dr. Tom Mack holds the rank of USC Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Of his six books to date, three are devoted to colorful local history: “Circling the Savannah,” “Hidden History of Aiken County,” and “Hidden History of Augusta.”