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Symphony Orchestra Augusta

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Symphony Orchestra Augusta debuted on May 23, 1954, under the baton of its founding director, Harry M. Jacobs. Setting the foundation for what would become a leading regional orchestra, three support groups followed: the Guild in 1957, the League in 1961 and Friends in 1981. With the addition of the Aiken Symphony Guild in 1986, the strong foundation was in place to allow SOA to fulfill its mission: to share the joy of great musical performance with our audience.

SOA has only three music directors in its history, Harry M. Jacobs from 1954 to 1991, Donald Portnoy from 1991 to 2009 and Maestro Shizuo Z Kuwahara now in his second season. Under their leadership, SOA has expanded from a small community symphony orchestra into a regional symphony orchestra, offering services in two states and 17 counties throughout Georgia and South Carolina.

With a new music director, SOA ventured into A New Era in the 2009-2010 season, changing its name from Augusta Symphony to Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA). Continuing to focus on excellence in live music performance, SOA shares its love through a variety of concert series.

Symphony Series, formerly Masterworks, moved from Augusta State University's Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre to First Baptist of Augusta in 2005-2006, following its 50th Anniversary Celebration Season. The new hall allows for improved acoustics, increased seating and ample parking. Patrons are provided impressive evenings filled with the sound of the full orchestra sharing familiar classics and thrilling contemporary works.

Pops! at the Bell offers fan favorites from icons such as Olivia Newton John to the Music of Queen Spectacular and country favorites such as Wynona Judd and LeAnn Rimes, to the music of the stage and screen. Columbia County Music Series, SOA's chamber series, features ensembles and guest artists from around the world in an intimate setting. To cap off the end of each season, SOA invites all of the CSRA to University Health Care System's Evans campus in early May for Pops! Under the Stars, a free outdoor community concert. Maestro Kuwahara and Symphony Orchestra Augusta kicked off the 2010-2011 Season with an Americana concert, complete with fireworks, at Reynolds Plantation, Lake Oconee, presented by Oconee Performing Arts Society (OPAS).

The historic Miller Theater was opened by Frank Miller and Augusta Entertainments in February 1940as a movie palace. At the time, it was one of the largest theaters in Georgia, second only to the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Designed by noted theater architect Roy A. Benjamin, it reflected the upscale yet simple and sophisticated grandeur of the Art Moderne movement. Today, it remains the only theater of this style remaining in the state.

Designed primarily as one of the last "movie palaces," it included a stage for smaller ensemble entertainment such as plays and limited dance shows. In fact, the talents of Tallulah Bankhead were showcased for Augusta audiences in the Lillian Hellman play The Little Foxes, the Lynard Skynard band, Eddie Arnold as well as many others. Among other distinctions for this famous house was the world premier of the film The Three Faces of Eve starring Joanne Woodward in 1957. Miss Woodward went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

With the westward urban flight of homeowners and shoppers, downtown Augusta was left relatively lifeless after dark and on weekends as patrons followed stores and movie theaters to the suburbs in droves. The Miller Theater, like its older neighbor across Broad Street - the Imperial Theatre, suffered in its final years as a second run movie house, and performance home for groups such as the Augusta Opera, Augusta Players, and Augusta Ballet. It would eventually close in 1985 with the opera Regina, the musical version of The Little Foxes.

The building sat in leaky disrepair until 2005 when it was purchased by Peter Knox, iv. Mr. Knox, not wanting to see the theater deteriorate further, had the structure reroofed and stabilized the structure pending plans for future development. After a few years of consideration and analysis involving acoustic, engineering, and operational consultancies, the Board of Directors of Symphony Orchestra Augusta accepted the building as a donation from Mr. Knox.

It is the aim of SOA to turn the space into a vibrant home for music and other arts in Augusta, a permanent home for its orchestra, and a lively contributor with the Imperial Theatre in a downtown theater district - making downtown a total entertainment destination.

Since that time, Lord Ayck Sargent, an architectural firm in Atlanta, along with local firm 2KM, have been developing plans for the building to transform it into an acoustically fine hall that will be appropriate for many uses.

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