About the St. Augustine Orchestra
One of St. Augustine’s longest running cultural entities; St. Augustine Orchestra (SAO) is a foundation of cultural, artistic and historic legacy in St. Augustine and St. Johns County. With over 50 volunteer members who’s motivation for participation in SAO is a love of music and the joy of sharing that love with the public. Through the years, the orchestra has given the community their best musical efforts. The result has been a continued, fine tradition and an increasingly sophisticated level of performance.
Guided by the mission to expand awareness and music appreciation, the SAO approach is to provide quality live performances at an affordable cost to the community, to provide outreach programs to seniors and youths, as well as to offer educational opportunities to budding and prospective musicians. Each SAO program carries a theme which aims to inform, enlighten and entertain audiences.
With the many nearby notable institutions such as Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, and Stetson University, each offering undergraduate degrees in music, SAO is privileged to have a pool of young talented soloists participating in the orchestra, furthering SAO’s mission to challenge and inspire local youth in music careers.
SAO invites local musicians meeting minimum capability standards willing to devote time for weekly rehearsals to join. Members range from 13 to 80 years of age including professionals, music teachers, business leaders, retirees, music amateurs and accomplished students. SAO also encourages other musicians to play with the orchestra; we have sponsored solo vocalists and musicians, groups of single instruments, choruses, and small instrumental groups to participate in our programs.
SAO relies on both corporate and individual sponsorships that include program advertising, to offset musical production costs in addition to funding music education programs. Corporate and individual sponsors can take pride in supporting local musicians providing a valued program of performing arts and supplementing youth instrumental instruction and performance opportunities.
Won’t you or your company support the local arts community while adding value to educational outreach programs by becoming a valued SAO sponsor?
History of the St. Augustine Orchestra
The St. Augustine Orchestra was founded in 1961 by Jack Van Brederode who served as conductor for several years. Originally called the St. Augustine Symphonette, the ensemble went through a number of name changes, finally settling on the St. Augustine Orchestra (SAO). After Van Brederode’s death, Kenneth Hueninck became conductor followed by David Middleton, William Turnbull, James Peronto, Ramona Peronto, Ira Strauss, John Bush, and from 2010-2016, William McNeiland. The current conductor, Maestro Scott Gregg, took the helm of SAO in the fall of 2016 and continues to guide the group to new musical heights.
Among the most notable former members was violinist Hugo Ohlms, whose murals and colorful decorations still grace the interior of the Basilica Cathedral in St. Augustine. Emil Maestre, internationally known cellist (the Emil Maestre Music Association was named in his honor) played with the ensemble whenever his busy performance schedule permitted. William Turnbull, a music director in the Putnam County Schools, originally played the violin and bass viola, and later became conductor. Ultimately he gave up the baton and returned to playing. David Middleton, music teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, served as coordinator during the early years. Orchestra member Jack Page took the position of business manager and was elected president of the Board of Directors and held both posts until his retirement from the orchestra in 2002. Currently, orchestra member Allyson Breger holds the position of Executive Director.
Since its inception, SAO has welcomed requests by local government and civic groups to perform at special functions. Concerts have been given at civic events such as Pedro Menendez Day, the traveling Vietnam Memorial ceremony, and the first graduation ceremony for the First Coast Technical Institute. In 1964, SAO performed with the St. Johns River Community College singers in their production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” in Palatka, Florida. In addition, the orchestra played in the Little Theater of St. Augustine production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” Later, SAO members played in the orchestra that accompanied Flagler College’s performance of “Man of LaMancha.” SAO has performed at retirement homes and churches in St. Johns County and the surrounding contiguous counties. Concerts have also been presented in the Jacksonville Landing, the Friday Musicale, the Palatka Community Center, the Palm Coast Amphitheater, the Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra, Del Webb Ponte Vedra, the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium, the River House, Anastasia Baptist Church, and the Flagler Auditorium in Flagler County. SAO has been scheduled multiple times by the EMMA Concert Association to perform in Lewis Auditorium of Flagler College and the Flagler College Ballroom. In celebration of St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary, the orchestra performed with other notable community arts organizations at the St. Augustine Amphitheater. SAO performed a benefit concert in the Lightner Museum, donating all proceeds to the United Way providing aid to local residents who sustained home damage during Hurricane Matthew and most recently performed at the Sound Connections annual fund raiser in support of their music therapy outreach program for children with special abilities.
For many years, SAO called the Lightner Museum its performance home. The Lightner Museum is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 as one of Henry Flagler's grand resort hotels. SAO performs regularly each season in what was known as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool of its time. Rumor has it that television actor Johnny Weissmuller, best known for his role as Tarzan, and an Olympic swimming gold medal winner, used the pool for training.