Our Story

Community Music is Our Mission

Our Goals

The History of the Columbia Orchestra

The Mission of the Columbia Orchestra organization is to foster lifelong appreciation of, enthusiasm for, and participation in music.

The Beginning

In 1977, a handful of string players began performing classical music to the local community as the Columbia Chamber Orchestra. Yong Ku Ahn became the group’s first Music Director in 1978.

In 1988, Carl Dietrich expanded the membership to include winds and percussion, programming standard symphonic literature. The organization became the Columbia Orchestra. Catherine Ferguson served as Music Director from 1990-1999. She expanded the repertoire, established a regular season at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, and lead the CO’s first appearance the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

A New Era

Jason Love took the podium in 1999, quickly winning the hearts of orchestra and audience members alike with his humor, generosity, and consummate musicianship. Under his baton, The Baltimore Sun named the Orchestra “Howard County’s premier ensemble for instrumental music.” After twenty-four years of leadership, Jason retired at the end of the 2022-23 season.

In 2000, the orchestra hired Tedd Griepentrog, its first Executive Director, and concerts were moved to the Jim Rouse Theatre. The Orchestra made its Kennedy Center debut in 2002 and established an office at the Center for the Arts in 2005. During that time, the CO released its first commercial recording.

In 2013, a new Executive Director, Katherine Keefe, was hired to build upon the growth that the Orchestra had achieved during the preceding decade. Berta Sabrio was hired as the Executive Director in 2022 and is excited about being part the next chapter of the Columbia Orchestra.

A New Partnership

In 2016 the Columbia Jazz Band and the Columbia orchestra formed a partnership, expanding the organization’s range of musical offerings. The CJB brings with it a long history of artistic excellence and a world-class director in Fred Hughes.

The Columbia Jazz Band (CJB) celebrates its 29th year, offering a diverse repertoire ranging from big band to contemporary jazz, blues, Latin, swing, standards, and pop. Their performances, held at concerts and dances throughout the greater Washington D.C. area, have garnered recognition. Notable events include captivating concerts featuring esteemed vocalist Delores King Williams and four-time Grammy winner Gordon Goodwin. The band has also made multiple appearances at prestigious venues such as The Rouse Theater, the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, and the legendary Blues Alley Jazz Club.

The CJB has expanded its reach beyond the United States, embarking on five successful international tours. Their performances across Austria, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey have drawn enthusiastic crowds, with standing-room-only shows. Among the highlights of their tours are prestigious events like the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Bulls Head Jazz Club in London, the Wigan Jazz Festival in Manchester, the Istanbul Jazz Festival in Turkey, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, Jazz à Juan in France, the Jazzaldia Festival in Spain, and Jazz à Vienne in France.

The Columbia Jazz Band is equally at home in an intimate jazz dinner theater or on a festival stage entertaining thousands.

The Future of the Orchestra

Innovative programming that highlights compositions by today’s new generation of composers, including Anna Cline, Carlos Simon, Reena Esmail, and others, commissioned works by Andrew Earle Simpson and James Lee III, and renowned soloists, including pianist Rachel Franklin and fiddler Mark O’Connor led to the Orchestra being awarded the American Prize in Orchestral Programming in 2015.

In 2023-24, the Classical Concert Series will be under the direction of four innovative and talented guest conductors. A new Music Director will be named in early June 2024.

The Columbia Orchestra has been hailed as “a pillar of the local arts community” by The Washington Post and has been designated the Best Performing Arts Group in Howard Magazine several times.

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