The Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra / Photo via Facebook

Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra’s Mosaics: Making Beauty from Adversity

The Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra is a nonprofit, volunteer, LGBTQ-inclusive symphony orchestra organized to serve the musical needs of its community and its members. The APO is the only LGBTQ orchestra in Georgia and the fifth oldest in the world of its kind. It was founded in 2004 by four instrumentalists and a choral director to create an inclusive orchestral group for the LGBTQ community in Atlanta. Under the batons of Artistic Director Amy Wilson, Associate Conductor Whittaker Locke and Concertmaster Earl Hough, APO will open its 18th concert season on Saturday, October 21.

Wilson named this season’s theme, “Mosaics,” and told Georgia Voice she was inspired by the orchestra’s practice and performance space at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, a midcentury A-frame with stained glass windows. The APO values inclusivity, and this season’s theme hopes to capture the beauty of diversity in the LGBTQ community through music.

As a conductor and artistic director, Wilson creates the program for each concert, leads the orchestra throughout the season and auditions prospective members. Outside the APO, Wilson has conducted orchestras throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. She is also the principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Musicians Orchestra. Since joining the APO in 2011, Wilson’s health and life have changed significantly.

After experiencing symptoms of extreme fatigue and fainting spells for years, she was diagnosed with brain cancer in February 2021. Symptoms began over a decade before when she was a graduate student, but she initially dismissed them as signs of “getting older.” She was also born visually impaired due to a genetic condition called ocular albinism.

“I’m visually impaired, but I didn’t have these problems before. I was starting to struggle to use the MARTA, to see things that I should be able to see, but I remember [feeling] like this getting older stuff is hard,” Wilson said. “I mean, I’ve gone all over Atlanta, accidentally, on the MARTA just because I got on the wrong train at Five Points.”

Wilson knew from an early age that she wanted to be a conductor, like her mother. Even though she seemed born for the job, her parents encouraged her to study math or science, so she didn’t “throw away” her talent in those subjects. Despite their protestations, Wilson knew her passion would lead her to conducting. As she entered the world of conducting, she quickly learned the field was dominated by men.

“I’m very passionate about conducting, and I was determined to be a conductor no matter what … For me, there was nothing else I could do and be happy,” she said. “So, that was really my guiding light, and I was going to do it. I didn’t care what it was. I was going to conduct something, and I’m so glad that I did, even with the struggles I have.”

The opening concert for the APO’s 18th season theme, Mosaics, offers a variety of pieces that individually confront themes of identity, death, and homeland. Together, the program illustrates the beauty of accepting oneself, living authentically and the struggle to reach inner peace.

The program features a composition by Massimo De Lillo, one of the winners of the 2022 APO Composition Contest called “From the Mystical East.” Wilson also promises Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E minor),” “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saëns, “Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila” by Mikhail Glinka and “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss Sr.

The Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra will debut its 18th season on Saturday, October 21 at 7:30pm at North Decatur Presbyterian Church at 611 Medlock Rd. Visit atlantaphilharmonic.org for tickets and more information.

Editor’s note (10/13/2023): The original version of this article incorrectly said the concert will be on Saturday, October 22 when it will be on Saturday, October 21.