Sowers shares gratitude for 35 years as Anderson Symphony Orchestra music director

Apr. 21—ANDERSON — Less than two hours before his final concert as music director for the Anderson Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Rick Sowers allowed a few hints of emotion to surface as he reflected on his historic tenure with the organization.

Although he said he was trying to approach preparations for Saturday's concert as he would any other performance, Sowers admitted there were "lots of feels going on."

Sowers' 35-year run as music director with the orchestra is believed to be the longest such tenure with one orchestra in the United States — spanning more than half the 56 years of existence of the ASO itself.

"It's something special to be able to do that," Sowers said.

Sowers has received cards, letters and other messages of congratulations from across the country. He expressed gratitude for a variety of experiences he's had with the ASO. He noted that relationships he's built with hundreds of musicians over the years — and seeing those relationships blossom among the musicians themselves — will be something he'll always remember.

"In the artistic world, whenever you have a large number of people in an orchestra or something like it, there can be some difficult times — and we've had them," Sowers said. "But by and large, when those people come in to rehearse and do a concert, they're bringing the best of themselves."

Sowers, who retired from Anderson University in 2021 after spending 37 years as a professor of music, said the creative process that happens when an orchestra rehearses for a concert brings with it a powerful sense of belonging.

"It's not something I do," he said. "It has something to do with the leader, but everybody has to own it. And that is the idea that this is a safe place, that you can make your art, that you can create these things, that you can make mistakes and try to get better as you go.

"Being a part of something like that, I'm sure I'm going to miss that."

When Sowers announced his plans to step down in 2022, the orchestra's executive director, Darla Sallee, called it the end of an era.

"We've bonded over life issues as well," Sallee said at the time. "He's just been a great friend and someone to bounce things off of."

Saturday's concert spotlighted three of Sowers' favorite works with the orchestra, including the "Festive Overture" by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" and "Pines of Rome," a tone poem by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi.

It also capped the orchestra's season, the theme of which was "Maestro," a tribute to Sowers' tenure. Each of the season's performances featured guests with personal and professional connections to Sowers, including Saturday's guest, pianist John Novacek.

The end of Sowers' tenure, however, won't mean the end of his work in the arts. He said he plans to continue working on music projects, but not in affiliation with the symphony.

"In a way, I'm going to be sort of happy that I have reached the retirement point where I am," he said. "At the same time, I hate the idea of giving up being with my musician friends and all my ASO colleagues. It's a mixture of all those things."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.