The Aiken Performing Arts Group (APAG) is a presenting organization that seeks out the finest nationally and internationally recognized performing artists and brings their shows to Aiken. The underlying philosophy is simple: by expanding the cultural options available to local citizens, APAG is contributing to the overall quality of life of the entire community and surrounding area.
The organization is very aware that in these challenging economic times the opportunity to go to a first class show or concert is very often a much needed respite from the cares of the day.
Since APAG’s founding in 2005, the review and selection of performances have been in the capable hands of Thomas C. Hofstetter, APAG President and several members of the Executive Committee. Mr. Hofstetter has more than forty years of wide ranging experience in the management and development of show business companies. Volunteers from the Executive Committee attend several Performing Arts Exhibitions each year to preview shows and meet personally with the artists. These experiences are invaluable in selecting the most appropriate shows to present in Aiken.
Each year APAG surveys its audience and uses the audience responses as an important tool in shaping APAG’s presentation schedule. To a large extent, APAG’s show selection is based on what the Aiken audience tells us they want to see and experience in future theater seasons.
The performances held in the URS Center for the Performing Arts have provided citizens with the wonderful experience of affordable, professional, live entertainment on their doorstep and the community has responded by demanding a second night of performances. Most of the performers play to sold-out houses. APAG is thrilled by the enthusiastic response that the shows have received from the Aiken community.
APAG’s community involvement has certainly enhanced the quality of life for Aiken County residents and students, as well as many living outside Aiken County.
EDUCATIONAL & COMMUNITY OUTREACH
The public school educational outreach program is an equally important part of APAG’s mission. APAG negotiates with its visiting professional artists to participate in on-site master classes and presentations in Aiken County public schools. The underwriting funds come from what APAG earns from its shows, from donations by interested community sources, and from grants. Funds for this very valuable school out-reach are always hard to secure, especially during these tough economic times when corporations and grant providers have less support to offer non-profit organizations.
Without our efforts to bring professional entertainers into the public schools, many students would not have the opportunity to experience these types of programs. The students are thrilled to have this educational and “just fun” experience. Since 2005, APAG’s Educational Outreach has impacted more than 8,500 students in Aiken County.
APAG is reaching out to many segments of the population of Aiken and beyond to enhance the quality of life of many individuals. The outreach programs also include the military and residents of senior living centers. Special discounted tickets for the performances are made available to senior residents and APAG has provided the seniors with performances at their own living centers.
In the Spring of 2009, APAG initiated a new type of Educational Outreach Program by sponsoring an exciting drive known as “Instruments In Your Attic” (IYA). The purpose was to collect unused musical instruments from individuals in the community, to repair the instruments, if necessary, and to donate them to county public schools and to USC-Aiken. With schools’ budgets for the arts greatly reduced or non-existent, the need for instruments is critical.
APAG staged a huge publicity campaign to spread the word about their latest school outreach project. IYA was enthusiastically received by the people of Aiken County. In the first year of the campaign more than 150 instruments, 3 pianos, and a xylophone were donated (well over the number expected).
Needed repairs which were made to many of the instruments, and they were given to area public schools and USC-Aiken. Some of the instruments from the IYA drive have been loaned to band and orchestra students. Other instruments will stay in the schools to be used in their music programs. Even a single piano in a school can give the students exposure that they may never have and instill an appreciation and love of music in their lives.
On a number of occasions, APAG has brought recovering wounded soldiers and their families from Augusta for dinner and a show at the URS Center for the Performing Arts.
APAG’s first military outreach was in 2008, when the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble went to the Augusta VA Medical Center for a morning performance. The ensemble played for 90 minutes with about 100 patients and staff coming and going during this time.
Soldiers, veterans, and staff were delighted with this special performance that gave them the freedom to spend a few minutes or listen to the entire selection of music depending upon their schedules. At the end of the performance APAG was presented with a lovely thank you plaque for funding and arranging this special performance of one of our nation’s most celebrated musical schools.
In December 2009, Dave Bennett’s “Tribute to Benny Goodman” Orchestra serenaded active duty soldiers recovering from wounds received in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers and their families were brought to Aiken from Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon. Prior to the concert, APAG treated the soldiers and their families to dinner at the Aiken Municipal Building. A total of 40 soldiers, family, and staff dined and then were taken to the concert. The soldiers were delighted with the Christmas concert, and the appreciative audience gave the soldiers and their families a standing ovation.
In February 2010, APAG brought a New Orleans Jazz group, “Hot 8 Brass Band” to perform in Aiken. The band has a national and international reputation, has recorded CDs, and tours extensively. Twenty soldiers recovering at the Augusta VA Medical Center from wounds received in Iraq or Afghanistan were brought to Aiken for BBQ dinner and the jazz concert. Again, the citizens gave the soldiers a standing ovation. The “Hot 8 Brass Band” is a very lively, exciting group, and soon the soldiers were responding to the music, smiling, and laughing.
This tradition has now become an annual event. Most recently, the John Brown Jazz Orchestra performed for a special group of soldiers from Fort Gordon at their November 2011 concert which they dedicated to these soldiers and all veterans.
APAG is well aware of its patrons’ wide range of musical tastes, so it constantly tries to vary and add to the possible choices. In addition to the regular series, APAG has presented a number of very special performances.
On March 10, 2005, the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble accepted an APAG invitation to perform in Aiken. The following year, at the request of the Juilliard School, New York, APAG brought the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra to Aiken in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the famous New York Conservatory. Juilliard groups continued their one week annual visits to Aiken, sponsored by APAG for four seasons along with a very successful educational out-reach into the local schools. Julliard’s visits to Aiken were so successful that it has now spun off into an independent “Juilliard in Aiken” annual event.
APAG, in partnership with USC-Aiken brought the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) to perform in Aiken in 2008. APAG is proud of its role in making this wonderful musical experience available to area residents. The NSO visits a different state each year. Aiken was one of five venues where the NSO performed during their visit to South Carolina. For many, it was a once in a lifetime chance to experience this national treasure. At the performance Emil de Cou, Associate Conductor, observed that the Aiken audience that night was the largest for their entire state-wide tour.
The 2010-2011 season Portfolio Series included two very special performances.
The first concert was held November 18, 2010, as a part of Aiken’s 175th Anniversary Celebration. Dr. Donald Portnoy, long time conductor of the Augusta Symphony, and current conductor of the USC Symphony Orchestra, brought his university orchestra to Aiken. The concert featured both classical and popular music. The Saint Saens Organ Symphony was performed by the USC Symphony with guest organist Ken Courtney. Additionally, the Symphony performed music known to have been popular in Aiken in the early years, but still recognized today. Well-known local historian Owen Clary introduced this music and gave a history of the works. With the mix of popular and classical music, APAG drew not only the regular patrons, but also people who may not have previously attended the concerts.
The second special concert, “Ah, Spring!,” featured Frederica von Stade performing in concert on April 28, 2011. Miss von Stade is recognized as one of the most beloved musical figures of our time. She has enriched the world of classical music with her performances in opera, concerts, and recitals, on stage and in numerous television performances. The mezzo soprano has more than sixty recordings of opera, arias, symphonic works, solo recital programs, and crossover albums. Her awards are extensive. Miss von Stade also conducted several educational outreach programs with music teachers and university voice majors.
As part of the 2011-2012 season APAG presented for the first time a special family program in January. The Orchestra of the Midlands under the direction of Dr. Donald Portnoy performed Prokefiev’s classic “Peter and the Wolf.” Dr. Fred Andrea, pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church was the Narrator and Carrie Power, art teacher at East Aiken School of the Arts, drew the characters from the story on a large white easel. The orchestra also performed “Toy Symphony” with a number of area students participating with toy instruments. The performance was a huge success with both adults and children going up to the stage afterwards to see the instruments at close range.
By bringing Miss von Stade, to Aiken, bringing the Juilliard School of Music to Aiken for the first time, working with USC-Aiken to bring the National Symphony Orchestra to Aiken, and presenting the special family concert of “Peter and the Wolf,” APAG has confirmed its position as a first class presenting organization. APAG wants the audience to experience a wide range of musical entertainment of the very best quality.
The following is a history of performances presented by Aiken Performing Arts Group from 2005 to the present:
Juilliard’s First Visit to Aiken
APAG’s inaugural show in Spring of 2005 featured the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble for a single performance
The first Subscriber Series featured:
Mac Frampton (Piano)
Daphne Alderson, (Vocalist)
The Second City (Comedy)
Juilliard Jazz Orchestra
The Subscriber Series was joined by the Portfolio Series and the Salon Series :
The Celtic Tenors
Red, Hot & Blue (Musical Comedy)
Frank Ferrante—“A Salute to Groucho”
Quartetto Gelato (Vocal/Instrumental)
Juilliard’s “Volando String Quartet”
Arthur Tollefson “Pictures at an Exhibition”
Juilliard’s Volando String Quartet
Synergy Brass Quintet
Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company
Dave Bennett’s “Tribute to Benny Goodman”
The National Symphony Orchestra
Juilliard Jazz Orchestra—“Great American Songbook”
Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain (Bluegrass)
NSO Chamber Music Group
The Subscriber Series begins with two performances for each show:
Celtic Crossroads (Vocal/Instrumental/Dance)
Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play (Jazz)
Stig Rossen (Vocalist)
New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players— “The Wandr’ing Minstrels”
“Christmas Around the World”—Juilliard Jazz Orchestra
Steve Lippia “Simply Sinatra”
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Hot 8 Brass Band (Jazz)
Route 66 Musical Comedy Revue
Dave Bennett’s “A Benny Goodman Holiday Tribute”
USC Symphony Orchestra with Arthur Tollefson
The Best of Broadway—“A Gershwin Celebration”
Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company
Equinox Jazz Orchestra—“Mercer Mostly”
The Passing Zone (Comedy)
Aiken’s 175th Anniversary and the USC Symphony
“Ah, Spring!” with Frederica von Stade
Michael Londra’s Celtic Fire
John Brown Jazz Orchestra
Stig Rossen (Vocalist)
Il Voce (Popera/ Classical Crossover Vocalists)
USC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Portnoy
The Grascals (Bluegrass music)
Special Family Concert
Peter and the Wolf , Orchestra of the Midlands, Donald Portnoy