The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra cultivates the next generation of classical musicians and music lovers
As part of a fundraising auction item, symphony supporter Bob Dunn guest conducts a piece performed by ASO.
For 34 years now, the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra has shown the region, known for its Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music, a few more uses for the fiddle and double bass. The sometimes 200-piece ASO has just begun its 34th season, themed “Orchestrating Passion,” with a roster of dynamic concerts designed to draw in music fans, and make classical music fans out of all of them.
At the heart of it the ASO’s mission, are its roughly 10 Acadiana-area performances.
“Typically, each season, we host about four shows at Heymann Center in Lafayette, which holds 2,400 people,” says ASO’s marketing director Rita Goodrich. “Then we host two to three at Acadiana Center for the Arts, a much smaller venue that holds 300 people. So we have a good mix of both large-scale and intimate concerts.”
The 34th annual season aims to specifically showcase works relating to human emotion, with concerts dedicated to everything from “Mozart in Love” to Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” mixed in with orchestral forays into pop and rock music, all featuring guest stars like famous baritone Luis Ledesma, Indianapolis International Violin Competition prize winner Gregory Harrington as well as gold medal winner of the latest New Orleans International Piano Competition, Xiaohui Yang.
The orchestra exists not just to bring auditory joy and wonder, but to also create future generations of music fans — primarily via its Acadiana Conservatory of Music. The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra is one of only two in the United States that is associated with a Conservatory of Music.
“Conservatory is just a fancy word for music lessons,” says Goodrich. “We can accommodate any skill level or age. We have housewives who want to learn the piano. We had a lady a couple summers ago who learned to play the violin as a surprise for her family. We have a lot of high school kids who take summer classes with us just to stay in tune until they go back to their school bands.”
Springing from the ASO’s Conservatory, the Acadiana Symphony Youth Orchestra restarted three years ago after a short hiatus: 40 young string musicians study violin, viola, cello and double bass in order to perform an accessible blend of movie music, rock n’ roll, country and jazz.
“Through the conservatory we get kids interested in music and hopefully they’ll want to continue learning about music their whole lives,” says Goodrich, who clearly enjoys being surrounded by music and musicians of all ages. “The ASO’s offices at the Oil Center on Travis Street are on the same grounds as our eight music practice studios. So we are answering emails while listening to people learn the cello next door.”
Over 34 years, the ASO has created a genuine orchestra culture in Acadiana.
“We’ve been giving the people in the area a different musical community than the typical idea of going to a Cajun festival, or to a bar to hear music,” Goodrich says. This culture includes the Symphony Krewe, a social club of season ticket holders who attend events and parties together, and do community service and other beneficial events.
Part of the key to building this orchestra culture, has been the practice of taking requests.
“We get a lot of requests for more pop music,” says Goodrich. “So, last year we did The Beatles, and we had a singer accompany a small orchestral ensemble.”
The ASO has also interpreted popular and jazz artists such as Bob Dylan, U2, Miles Davis and Leonard Cohen.
On Nov. 10, the ASO will feature the music of Led Zeppelin, with an opening act of symphonic renditions of songs by New Orleans hard rock band, Zebra. Zebra singer Randy Jackson has been singing Led Zeppelin songs backed by an orchestra, touring the show around the world, for 20 years.
“I’ve also done ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ and The Beatles’ ‘White Album’,” says Jackson. But his Led Zeppelin tribute with partner Brent Havens really stuck. “Doing that for 20 years, I have played with just about every orchestra in the country, and the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra really rates right up there with the best of them,” says Jackson.
Of course the ASO does make a point to pay tribute to traditional Acadiana music. Each year, the orchestra picks one Cajun artist with which to collaborate.
“The Family Michot band did it in the past and that’s an all acoustic band, whereas this year the Lost Bayou Ramblers are doing it, and we’re more electric, with lots of psychedelics and ambience,” says Louis Michot of the Grammy-winning progressive Cajun band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers.
“To hear your own music in an orchestral setting,” says Michot, “It’s one of the ultimate collaborations.”
August & September
Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band
Corey Ledet became famous for carrying on the the sound of Zydeco’s founding father Clifton Chenier, but has since become a master music mixologist, fusing Zydeco, Creole, nouveau R&B and swing-out, with fits of accordion-based blues. Pont Breaux’s Cajun Restaurant. Breaux Bridge. pontbreauxscajunrestaurant.com
Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival
The 77th iteration of this beloved three-day festival includes kids’ activities, a breakfast jam for visiting musicians, and of course the crowning of the Queen Sugar. New Iberia. hisugar.org
Acadiana Symphony Orchestra presents “In the Court of Passion”
The ASO will begin the night with Carmina Burana and work through a setlist of similarly passionate works, rounded out by vocal soloists Luis Ledesma, Andrea Mouton, and David Shaler, plus extra musicians from the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Chorale des Amis. Heymann Theatre. acadianasymphony.org