Renowned for its performances of classical music from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries—Baroque, Classical and early romantic periods, played on authentic period instruments, The Orchestra of the Old Fairfield Academy begins its twenty-seventh season, harmoniously, as The American Classical Orchestra (ACO). It has performed at Lincoln Center as part of the Great Performers Series, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and this year is launching a fall concert series at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
In 1981, though, the orchestra’s home was St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield. As the story goes, Rector Adam Lewis sought an ambitious music program to give his friends at Southport’s Trinity Church a little healthy competition. He hired music director Thomas Crawford, then a young graduate of the Eastman School of Music with a master’s in composing from Columbia University. Crawford launched a boys’ choir. “To support the choir, we needed an orchestra,” he says. “I took handwritten posters to the Yale School of Music, the Hartt School of Music, and Juilliard, announcing auditions for players of the different instruments we needed. We had hundreds of applications, and I personally interviewed them all, including twenty-five flute players!” Thus the Fairfield Chamber Orchestra was born.
In 1985 Crawford formed an affiliate group, the Orchestra of the Old Fairfield Academy (named for the circa-1799 former schoolhouse on the Town Green). In 1999 the name was changed to the American Classical Orchestra (ACO) to reflect its new mission of celebrating classical music performed on period instruments from the composer’s time (“music as the masters heard it”). It also moved to New York City, where most of its musicians lived.
But ties to Fairfield County remain. For example, the Classical Music for Kids program was launched by Mae Miller of Weston in 1990. It worked with ACO to provide music-education programs for schoolchildren throughout Fairfield County, which resulted in a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The programs combine performances by Crawford and five orchestra members with a discussion of instruments and student interaction.
Crawford is committed to continuing these programs. “The highlight of my career,” he says, “is establishing the relationships that enabled me to launch the Fairfield Orchestra and build community support for the American Classical Orchestra.” aconyc.org
Thomas Crawford on selecting classical music: “I highly recommend the orchestral recordings of conductor John Elliot Gardiner, and the piano recordings of Richard Goode. People can buy Gardiner’s Mozart and Goode’s Beethoven.”