A new orchestra rises in Georgia (US)

A new orchestra rises in Georgia (US)


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2021

The McDuffie Center for Strings, a conservatory in Macon, Georgia, has got together with musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to form a new ensemble made up of students and estrablished professionals.

The new ensemble, to be called the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra, will plug the gap left in 2017 when the Macon Symphony went out of business. The conductor will be Ward Stare formerly of the Rochester Philharmonic.



  • qwerty1234 says:

    That is a good concept that the US could use more of. The German “academy” scheme trains young musicians in a professional setting, so that, once they successfully win an audition, they are already familiar with what it is like to approach the orchestral repertoire on a weekly basis. There is so much you can only learn on the job from experienced orchestral players that unfortunately cannot be taught in conservatory.

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      Except here in America, we do not get the government support that the German orchestras get. And we have the best institutions of higher education especially for music. That’s why everyone comes here.

      So these well trained students are put into these wonderful but low expense programs that disguise themselves as “pre-professional” and then send these talented students out to the real world with only orchestral skills and little else. The ED and the MD get the money.

      Meanwhile the actual orchestras that pay their musicians a living wage struggle to keep afloat. And there is constant acrimony between management and labor.

      Either pay your musicians what they are worth or don’t. The world doesn’t need more post-graduate “student” orchestras.

      • Basso Continuoso says:

        Nevertheless, the New World Symphony has proven itself to be an effective training ground, its members are more likely to win auditions than others. It just goes to show that getting one degree or two in a conservatory is not enough. But these orchestras should also train conductors. The National Orchestral Association provided this training under Leon Barzin, but has vanished, and I’m not sure there is anything like it in New York City.

    • fflambeau says:

      Actually, many major US orchestras have younger ones aligned with them where they do their training. See the Chicago Civic Orchestra (CSO supported); Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (Cleveland); Boston Symphony Youth Orchestras; Los Angeles has YOLA and so on.

  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    Robert McDuffie who founded the Centre some fourteen years ago is a superb violinist and outstanding teacher. He regularly gives masterclasses including the Starling-Delay Symposium. He is a former student of Dorothy Delay at the Juilliard School.This new ensemble will definitely go places.

    • drummerman says:

      Don’t assume anything. We certainly wish them well but Macon is a small market, only about 225,000 in the metro area. Can it really support a pro orchestra? I assume that the students will not be paid but what about the “established professionals?” Are they donating their services? Do they have an infrastructure/staff in place to sell tickets, raise money, etc.? I worked with Bobby McDuffie a number of years ago and he is wonderful.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    New World. Up North. Great business model.

    Hire students who will work for free (or a meager stipend), train them for a professional orchestra (that actually has to pay for talent), don’t worry really about the future since orchestras will come and go. What’s not to like?

    Count me in!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I wish them nothing but good luck, but I’m not so sure that now’s the time to start up a new orchestra, particularly in such a small market.

  • FrankUSA says:

    This sounds like good news but what does this do and how does it affect the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The ASO was the leading orchestra in the Southeast US. Used to be much recorded(but other other orchestras have had the same problem with recordings). But the Atlanta Georgia area is exploding in population and the ASO should be responding in kind. However,they just lost a most respected MD and I have not heard of a replacement. The other side of the coin of this announcement is a weakling of the ASO just when this orchestra/organization needs to step up the the increasing cultural demands of the Atlanta area and the Southeast US. I don’t think this is good news at all.

    • fflambeau says:

      I think you are worrying too much, Frank. The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam has not had a conductor for much longer than Atlanta. Macon is a city of almost a 1/4 million people; it is bigger than Rochester, New York; Madison, Wisconsin, about the same size, has had a reputable orchestra for decades and is close to Milwaukee and Chicago both of which have known symphony orchestras. So, celebrate! Atlanta is a powerhouse in growth and in other ways in the South; I am sure it will do very well. By the way, Ward Stare is a good one.

    • Donald Muench says:

      ASO would do well to hire Ward Stare, by the way.

  • Reality Check says:

    Some people seem to be misunderstanding what’s happening here. This is really just a small music school hiring mentors/ringers from the ASO, notably wind and brass players only as the McDuffie Center is only for string students.

    Despite the school’s marketing, this ensemble in Macon is not really a professional orchestra, and this is not indicative of any weakening of the ASO’s position in the orchestral landscape.

    • David Rohde says:

      Thank you, Reality, for this corrective to some of the zero-sum thinking above, which never works to advance things in classical music anyway.

      The distance from Atlanta to Macon is practically the distance between New York and Philadelphia. I mention that simply because even (or especially?) Americans often misperceive these things once outside of the Northeast US. If this project is going to sink things for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, then they have bigger problems than anything caused by the activities of the McDuffie Center.

      Robert McDuffie holds a special place in the musical firmament. During the summer of 2017 I was attending the Aspen Music Festival and just sitting in the audience for a daytime violin master class that McDuffie was running. Halfway through the session, the side door opened and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the US Supreme Court Justice who died a few months ago) walked in. She was quite frail at this point and carefully assisted by an aide, but she was attending the annual Aspen Institute in the nearby buildings and was eager to take in this completely prosaic, non-glamorous session. It turns out that McDuffie has often performed in the musicales that the US Supreme Court holds once or twice a year, and he and Justice Ginsburg had gotten to know each other. Of course Ginsburg became known for her deep interest and engagement in opera, but this involvement on her part extended more broadly to all of the cultural arts that supposedly struggle in American society at large. Figures like McDuffie who can at least access these hooks and connections to the rest of our culture (and in fact RBG over time became something of a pop culture figure herself) are invaluable.

      As for whether the fall of 2021 is a good time for a new project to start up, it sounds perfect to me.

  • Michael T. Redden says:

    Where’s my banjo?