The Alabama Symphony Orchestra can trace its beginnings to 1921, when on Friday, April 29, fifty-two volunteer musicians joined to perform at the Birmingham Music Festival at the Old Jefferson Theater. It was not until 1933, however, that the orchestra gave its first "formal" concert when the Birmingham Music Club presented the orchestra, under the direction of Dorsey Whittington, at Phillips High School.
On October 23, 1933, the Birmingham Symphony Association was officially formed and J.J. Steiner was installed as president. With a budget of $7,000, four concerts were planned for its first season. By the 1935-36 season, the orchestra had as many as eighty players, and a budget of $410,000. A full rehearsal cost $100 and guest artists' fees were low by today's standards- the renowned composer-pianist, Percy Grainger, was paid $350 for his appearance with the orchestra in October 1939.
Symphony concerts continued throughout the 1930s with enthusiastic public acceptance, including open-air concerts in Avondale Park on Sunday afternoons. In 1942, American involvement in World War II put a temporary stop to these auspicious beginnings. After the end of the war, community interest in a revival of the Symphony Association continued, culminating in an editorial in the Age-Herald on September 14, 1948: "Birmingham needs a symphony orchestra. A city of this size, with a stirring musical life, needs an orchestra of symphonic size as a crown to its efforts..." Shortly thereafter, the Civic Symphony Association was reactivated and began the task of rebuilding the orchestra.
In April 1949, Arthur Bennett Lipkin became the orchestra's second conductor. Lipkin had been a conductor of suburban orchestras on Philadelphia's Main Line, a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and president of the American Orchestra League. Warmly recommended by Eugene Ormandy, Lipkin conducted his first concert on November 1, 1949. This was followed by four other concerts during that 1949-50 season with Dorsey Whittington, the orchestra's first conductor, appearing as soloist in the fourth concert, playing Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.
In 1951, the orchestra began its long association with the Festival of Arts. There were several support groups formed in these early years. The Vanguards, a group mostly of young couples, produced its own magazine and published the concert programs. Another support group, the Symphonettes, was organized in October 1954. It later changed its name to the Symphony League.
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