The mission of the Columbia Orchestra organization is to foster lifelong appreciation of, enthusiasm for, and participation in music.
Our mission focuses on:
In the fall of 1977, a handful of local string players began performing 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.
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 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.
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 renowned 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.
In June 2013 the orchestra hired a new Executive Director, Katherine Keefe, to build upon the growth and success that the orchestra had achieved during the preceding decade. Keefe came to the position after serving as the orchestra’s Operations Manager for two seasons, and before that as the Managing Director for the Handel Choir of Baltimore and Director of Human Resources at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. She served in the position until 2022, when Berta Sabrio became Executive Director. Sabrio, who was previously the Deputy Director of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, has brought her nonprofit business knowledge and her interpersonal, relationship-building, and communications skills to the Columbia Orchestra organization.
Now in its fourth decade, the orchestra continues to perform four classical symphony orchestra concerts each season as well as a December Holiday Concert, Symphonic Pops Concerts, Young People’s concerts, free chamber concerts featuring members of the orchestra, and numerous educational activities. The classical programs highlight not only the masterworks of the classical repertoire but also works by today’s new generation of composers, including Anna Clyne, Carlos Simon, Reena Esmail, Gabriela Ortiz, and others. The orchestra has commissioned two works: Andrew Earle Simpson’s score to accompany the silent film One Week in 2015, and James Lee III’s flute concerto titled Niiji Memories, which received is world premier by the orchestra in October 2021. Other highpoints have included a performance of Mahler’s magnificent Resurrection Symphony in partnership with Columbia Pro Cantare in 2016 and Maestro Love performing as soloist in the U.S. premier of Guillame Connesson’s Cello Concerto in celebration of his 20th anniversary with the orchestra during the 2018-2019 Season. The orchestra’s innovative programming led to Music Director Jason Love and the orchestra winning the third annual American Prize in Orchestral Programming in 2013. (Read more about the American Prize here.)
Finally, during the 2016-2017 Season the orchestra expanded its range of musical offerings beyond symphony orchestra and chamber concerts to also include jazz performances. The performances were made possible by bringing the Columbia Jazz Band under the Columbia Orchestra umbrella as a Partner Organization to presents its Jazz series in tandem with the Columbia Orchestra’s other series. The Columbia Jazz Band has been presenting modern American Jazz since 1989, performing at renowned venues such as the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival and the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. Since 2017, it has been directed by jazz pianist and brass musician Fred Hughes, who has performed, conducted, and presented jazz workshops nationally and internationally for over three decades. By bringing this excellent organization under the Columbia Orchestra umbrella, the orchestra is able to provide a broader awareness of both organizations throughout the community.
The orchestra’s operating budget continues to grow each season, and total annual audience now tops 11,000. The Columbia Orchestra has been hailed as “a pillar of the local arts community” by The Washington Post, in February 2007 Howard Magazine designated the Columbia Orchestra as #13 in its list of “The 51 Things We Love About Living in Howard County,” and Howard Magazine readers voted it Howard County’s “Best Performing Arts Group” in 2021. The Columbia Orchestra has clearly established itself as “Your Community’s Music” as we continue to provide Howard County with programs that “Build Community Through Music.”
The Columbia Orchestra 2021-2022 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2020-2021 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2019-2020 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2018-2019 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2017-2018 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2016-2017 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2015-2016 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2014-2015 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2013-2014 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2012-2013 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2011-2012 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2010-2011 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2009-2010 Season Annual Report
The Columbia Orchestra 2008-2009 Season Annual Report
Howard County Center for the Arts
8510 High Ridge Road
Ellicott City, MD 21043