Fifty years after the great conductor Leopold Stokowski founded the American Symphony Orchestra, his vision of a fine ensemble continues under the baton of Leon Botstein, who this year celebrates two decades at the helm. Not only is Botstein the music director and principal conductor of the ASO, but he has also been the president of Bard College since age 28. He is responsible for the school's academic acclaim, emphasis on the arts and the Bard Music Festival held every summer. This week, the gifted Botstein brings the ASO to George Mason University in a program of works by Brahms and Beethoven.

"Our mission has always been to perform inspirational music other orchestras don't often play," Botstein said. "The Brahms Serenade No. 1 is one of the composer's earliest works in which he was getting his hands around the symphony. It began as an octet before he rewrote it as a chamber work and finally an orchestral piece. We chose Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") because it is a masterpiece that continues to delight.

"Last week, we opened the ASO 50th anniversary season at Carnegie Hall with Stokowski's arrangement of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' followed by Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony and Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony ("Symphony of a Thousand"). Stokowski admired both Ives and Mahler, contemporaries who used nostalgia in their compositions. He conducted the U.S. premiere of the Mahler and left this country prior to his death carrying Ives' music."

American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein
Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Info: $30 to $60; 888-945-2468;

Botstein devotes his life to music and education. He thrives on writing, research and presenting fine music through the ASO and as co-artistic director of the Bard Music Festival. Its focus in 2013 will be Stravinsky, to be followed in 2014 with Schubert.

The ASO performs six concerts at Carnegie Hall each season, three pairs of concerts out of town, and a summer series featuring opera and classical works. The musicians are members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. They rehearse in New York City and at Bard.

"In the old days, it took weeks of rehearsals to put together a concert," Botstein said. "Today, classical music is so labor intensive, and professional musicians are adept at putting things together in four three-house rehearsals. Our objective is to encourage audiences to relax and not think they have to know everything about a piece to enjoy it. The music will connect with what they know and like, and they will quickly discover what they have in common," he said.