Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus

Founded as a modest youth orchestra in 1945, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra developed in four decades into one of the most polished of America's regional orchestras. Its recordings for Telarc early in the digital era made it the darling of audiophiles and by the end of the 20th century, its excellent principal players and ensemble sound could compare to the best in North America. Similarly, the Atlanta Symphony Chorus is ranked among the best choirs attached to American orchestras, comparable to those of the Chicago and San Francisco symphonies. Henry Sopkin founded what was initially the Atlanta Youth Symphony at the end of World War II, and spent the next two decades patiently developing it into a professional orchestra. In 1966, the baton passed to Robert Shaw, until then primarily known as a choral conductor. Shaw further professionalized the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and established what is now its 200-member chorus in 1970. Within two years of Shaw's arrival, the orchestra musicians became full-time players (although the chorus would always remain volunteer) and, at Shaw's instigation, the group moved into a new concert hall. In 1978, Robert Woods, president of the new, little audiophile label Telarc and a longtime Shaw fan, established a long-term relationship with the Atlanta Symphony. Although the orchestra's first Telarc releases were strictly orchestral, the chorus was soon brought on board and Shaw and Telarc would eventually record nearly every work for chorus and orchestra in the standard repertory. Shaw retired after 21 years, though remaining on as music director emeritus and conductor laureate until his death in 1999. Yoel Levi took over the orchestra in 1988, further refining the orchestra and proving its ability in repertory without chorus. Under Shaw and Levi, the orchestra won 18 Grammys; this annual success stirred a minor controversy in the late '80s. Prominent individuals in the Grammy nomination process were based in Atlanta and although nobody was accused of malfeasance, critics did suggest that civic boosterism and sheer habit had as much to do with the classical Grammys as artistic merit. Levi left the 95-member orchestra in 2000 and was replaced by the well-regarded Robert Spano the following year. Harking back to its origins, the Atlanta Symphony still supports a youth orchestra. It also presents an ambitious package of concerts and other annual events in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and maintains outreach programs for Atlanta's African-American community.

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