Peyton Anderson Foundation Awards Grant to McDuffie Center for Strings to Fund Local Symphony Orchestra

Robert McDuffie

MACON – Macon will once again have a symphony orchestra, thanks to a five-year, $300,000 Peyton Anderson Foundation grant that will fund a collaboration between the world-renowned Robert McDuffie Center for Strings in Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music and musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The announcement was made today by Mercer President William D. Underwood at Macon’s historic Grand Opera House.

The new orchestra – to be called The Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra – will re-establish a top-tier regional American orchestra in Macon, where the Macon Symphony ended its 41-year run in 2017. The closure left not only a void for McDuffie Center students who previously played with the orchestra, but also for the Middle Georgia community. Without the MSO, local residents interested in orchestral music have had to travel to Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus or outside the state to access a season of live performances.

The Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Mercer Distinguished Artist Ward Stare, with two fall performances and two spring performances each year beginning this fall at The Grand Opera House. Repertoire will include standard pieces by essential classical composers, as well as work by a wide range of contemporary composers from diverse backgrounds, reflecting the true breadth and depth of symphonic music today.

Thirteen members of the ASO’s woodwind, brass and percussion sections – including all principal woodwind and brass players – will mentor and perform with the 26 Center students.

“The Peyton Anderson Foundation is pleased to partner again with Mercer University in a continued commitment to creating music in Macon,” said Foundation President, CEO and Trustee Karen Lambert. “This collaboration fills a void in our local arts and culture scene, returns life to the symphony stage and creates a premier performance opportunity in Georgia.”

“This unique combination of conservatory-level students and elite professional musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will place Macon at the very top of American regional orchestras,” said Center for Strings Founder Robert McDuffie. “We also believe this will place Mercer firmly in the ranks of the top university orchestras in the country—and benefit our students with performance and learning opportunities they simply wouldn’t find anywhere else.”

Noted for its unique pairing of an intensive conservatory experience with a business-focused liberal arts curriculum to prepare extraordinary musicians for the entrepreneurial world of 21st century performance, the McDuffie Center aims to provide its students with access to some of the most distinguished faculty in the world while also providing that faculty the chance to work with some of the world’s finest young musicians.

“A partnership with musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues the McDuffie Center students’ education in, and exposure to, orchestral music,” said Dr. David Keith, dean of the Townsend School of Music. “This is important because musical selections played by strings students are typically solo or chamber pieces. Having students work with larger orchestral pieces offers invaluable lessons – both in playing new musical selections and in benefiting from shared experiences learned by playing with a group containing more than stringed instruments. This will also provide opportunities for the winds and brass students in the School of Music to be mentored by some of the leading orchestral players in the country.”

“I was so excited when the McDuffie Center launched its acclaimed music conservatory program,” said Laura Ardan, Principal Clarinetist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “I am thrilled to be part of an elite program right here in Georgia that is available to the student wishing to pursue a career in performance of great orchestral music.”

“After experiencing a memorable performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring on last year’s Fabian Concert Series featuring two of the principal wind players of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I look forward to more concerts with these wonderful performers and collaborators sitting and playing alongside the young artists of the McDuffie Center,” said Amy Schwartz Moretti, McDuffie Center director and Caroline Paul King Chair in Strings. “What an incredible opportunity for Mercer, Macon, and the McDuffie Center young artists!”

ASO Musicians Performing with the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra
  • Laura Ardan, principal clarinet
  • Andrew Brady, principal bassoon
  • Kim Gilman, horn
  • Marci Gurnow, clarinet
  • Laura Najarian, bassoon
  • Sam Nemec, oboe
  • Jaclyn Rainey, principal horn
  • Todd Skitch, flute
  • Christina Smith, principal flute
  • Stuart Stephenson, principal trumpet
  • Liz Tiscione, principal oboe
  • Mike Tiscione, associate principal trumpet
  • Mark Yancich, principal timpani 

About Townsend School of Music

Mercer University’s Townsend School of Music, the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings and the Townsend-McAfee Institute for Graduate Studies offer undergraduate and graduate professional music studies in a comprehensive university environment. Townsend is nationally recognized for its outstanding faculty, award-winning students, performance ensembles and state-of-the-art facilities. The McDuffie Center, a special institute within Townsend School of Music, is a highly selective program that prepares string students for success in the real world. Students study with some of America’s most renowned string musicians, receiving music instruction of conservatory quality, while earning an academically well-rounded education from a comprehensive, nationally recognized university. For more information and a complete listing of this season’s concerts, visit, or call (478) 301-2748.