History of the Columbia Orchestra
In the fall of 1977, a handful of local string players began playing classical music as the Columbia Chamber Orchestra. Yong Ku Ahn became the group's first Music Director and conductor in 1978.
Upon Ahn's retirement in 1988, Carl Dietrich took over leadership of the orchestra. During his tenure, the membership was expanded to include winds and percussion, standard symphonic literature was programmed, and the orchestra dropped "chamber" from its name to become the Columbia Orchestra of Howard County, Inc.
Catherine Ferguson served as the Columbia Orchestra's third Music Director from 1990 until 1999, expanding the repertoire, restructuring the annual Young Artist Competition, establishing a regular season at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, and leading the Columbia Orchestra's first appearance at the Columbia Festival of the Arts.
Current Music Director Jason Love took the podium in 1999, quickly winning the hearts of orchestra members and audience alike with his humor, generosity, and consummate musicianship. Under his baton, The Baltimore Sun named the Columbia Orchestra "Howard County's premier ensemble for instrumental music."
In August 2000, the orchestra hired Tedd Griepentrog as its first Executive Director. During the 2001-2002 season, all Masterworks programs were moved to the Jim Rouse Theatre to accommodate the expanded size of the orchestra and its growing audience. The Young People's Concert added a Musical Instrument Petting Zoo for children of all ages to see, hear, touch, and play orchestral instruments. In June 2002, the orchestra made its Kennedy Center debut in collaboration with the Tony Powell/Music & Movement dance ensemble. During its silver anniversary season, the Columbia Orchestra performed for the Maryland Music Educators Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center and announced its first biannual American Composer Competition.
In 2005, the organization established an administrative office at the Howard County Center for the Arts and released its first commercial recording, Flying Home: A Tribute to John Denver, performing with members and songwriters of the original John Denver Band. In June 2007, the orchestra joined renown fiddler and concert artist Mark O’Connor in a concert performed as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts.
Celebrating its 30th Anniversary season, in 2008 the orchestra undertook a community arts project entitled “Embracing the Millions,” which enlisted members of the community area performing artists in exploring the questions raised by the world’s most famous symphony, Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9. The project culminated in the orchestra’s performance of the symphony with local choral groups in April 2008.
Now in its fourth decade, the orchestra continues its annual Young Artist Competition and its biannual American Composer Competition. It has established a free chamber music series featuring members of the orchestra. Popular pre-concert discussions, conducted by Howard Community College’s William Scanlan Murphy and now sponsored by Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors, routinely draw up to 20% of the evening’s concert audience. And the orchestra continues to perform not only the masterworks of the classical repertoire but also works by today’s new generation of composers, including Tan Dun, Osvaldo Goliov, Joan Tower, and Jonathan Leshnoff.
As it enters its 33rd season, The Columbia Orchestra is clearly matching its reputation as one of Howard Magazine’s “51 Things We Love About Living In Howard County.”