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Orchestra gets new name, sets sights on Gwinnett

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman<br> Jeanne Carere Skelton, principal flute player with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra symphony and Sam Skelton, director of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra's jazz program, live in Buford and both played a key roll in the group's recent decision to expand into Gwinnett. Possible venues for the orchestra include outdoor amphitheaters, such as the one in Suwanee.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Jeanne Carere Skelton, principal flute player with the Georgia Symphony Orchestra symphony and Sam Skelton, director of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra's jazz program, live in Buford and both played a key roll in the group's recent decision to expand into Gwinnett. Possible venues for the orchestra include outdoor amphitheaters, such as the one in Suwanee.

For 60 years, one of the best kept secrets of metropolitan Atlanta has been the Cobb Symphony Orchestra. This well-established group of superbly talented musicians has been delighting and mesmerizing audiences for two generations with the symphony orchestra, the jazz band and the chorus.

Earlier this month, the Cobb Symphony Orchestra announced a name -- and philosophy -- change to the delight and applause of its May 7 audience.

The Georgia Symphony Orchestra, as the organization is now known, has earned a reputation for stretching creative and musical boundaries. Now the GSO will expand its geographical boundaries, as well. One of the first places the group is reaching out to is Gwinnett.

"Within the last six years, the organization has taken major leaps forward," said orchestra director Michael Alexander. "Given this growth, we are excited to continue to expand our programs as the Georgia Symphony Orchestra."

But there is more than just a simple name change at work. The GSO is actively seeking Gwinnett sponsors and performance venues, both critical to a successful presence in Gwinnett County. There are nine musicians and one board member who live in Gwinnett, and many students of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus programs live here as well. A move into Gwinnett only makes sense.

Sam Skelton leads the GSO Jazz Band. He and his wife Jeanne Carere Skelton, a flautist in the orchestra, live in Buford. They are both passionate about their music and about bringing it to Gwinnett.

"The community support and the love for the Cobb Symphony Orchestra have been astounding," Skelton said. "The love for the arts that we see here in Gwinnett is very encouraging. We're excited about the name change and the expansion."

One of the reasons that Skelton, Alexander and Carere believe the GSO will thrive in Gwinnett is the innovation and interaction for which the orchestra and band are known.

"When you come to a concert, think of it as the musical version of 'Antiques Road Show,'" Carere said. "Not only will you hear wonderful music, some new things and some classics, but you'll also hear a little bit about the background of the music. It will mean something to you."

Both Skelton and Alexander are professors at Kennesaw State University. As educators they have a flair for engaging an audience and bringing them into a performance.

"We communicate the origins of the music, especially classical music -- the economics and politics of the time and place that a piece was composed," Skelton said. "That's why there's such a wide appeal."

Gwinnett residents and business owners can expect to begin seeing informational fliers in mailboxes over the next couple of months, introducing the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and initiating a drive for local support. For more information about the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and a schedule for the upcoming 2011-12 season, visit www.georgiasymphony.org.

The season's first concert, held in Glover Park in Marietta on Saturday, is free to the public.