Toledo Symphony Orchestra


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50 Years In Retrospect

 

Written by President Emeritus/Chief Artistic Officer Robert Bell.

Formed in 1943 as The Friends of Music and incorporated in 1951 as the Toledo Orchestra Association, Inc., the Toledo Symphony has grown from a core group of twenty-two part-time musicians to a regional orchestra that employs nearly eighty professional musicians who consider the Toledo Symphony their primary employer, as well as numerous extra players annually as repertoire demands.  In 2006, President and CEO Robert Bell celebrated his fiftieth season with the Toledo Symphony.  What follows is a TSO narrative history by Robert Bell.

DECADE ONE

There was an opening in 1956 for principal percussionist and timpanist in Toledo’s “modest orchestra,” a time when the performance season consisted of five Classics concerts in the Peristyle with five free Sunday afternoon “junior” concerts made possible by the Edward Lamb Foundation.  At that time the Orchestra presented one annual Pops concert at the Sports Arena.  One of the Classics was dedicated to a concert performance of opera also at the Peristyle.

It was a different orchestra then.  The concertmaster and key string players were members of the Bowling Green State University faculty. The rest of the ensemble was made up in large part by freelance players, many from Detroit, local school teachers, and a novice, yours truly.

Board Presidents Marvin Kobacker, Stephen Stranahan, and John Spitzer who continues to serve, were enthusiastic, able and farsighted leaders.   A late 1950’s comment by Steve stays with me, “Impressive is the TSO’s service to 45,000.”  This compares to more than 300,000 who heard the Orchestra during this past year.  What a wonderful achievement for the regional community.

In 1958 the Orchestra Association hired Don Barnette as its first professional manager.  Don served for a decade and was the first of six managers through 1984.

In the early 1960’s the music director was Joseph Hawthorne who was succeeded by a series of guest conductors until the appointment of Serge Fournier in 1964.  Serge sought the most qualified musicians and programmed challenging works in building a professional music organization.  By the decade end, the Classics series had increased to seven pairs of concerts.  The TOLORA Quartet was founded by Pauline Little and Louise Wear, violins; Catharine Melhorn, viola; and Ruth Werchman, cello, which performed annually in every Toledo Public elementary school.  Ensemble activity and orchestra performances continued robust growth.  In the most recent season TSO ensembles presented more than 300 performances.

In addition to musical responsibilities, the role of librarian was added to my duties at that time – a time believed by many to be full of potential for music and musicians.  Audiences responded enthusiastically to performances which were frequently followed by a celebration at the Park Lane Hotel where guest soloist, musicians and audience members could get together with a ticket stub providing admission and a complimentary beverage.

Luminous performances by Glenn Gould, Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, Zino Francescatti, Benny Goodman and Jean Pierre Rampal will be remembered always.

DECADE TWO

The celebration of an anniversary provides occasion for reflection.  What follows in this, and coming, program books are a few of many, many noteworthy people, music and events that have transpired over my fifty seasons the Toledo Symphony.  1966 – 1976, the second decade, will be covered here.

It was a decade defined by artistic prowess led by a determined Serge Fournier.  Ambitious programming, a rigid adherence to high quality, and an ensemble comprised of the “proper” number of musicians were all things he compelled.  String players were enlisted from Oberlin and Ann Arbor, and Toledo became a quasi training ground for serious music students, many of whom continued into professional careers.  Turnover of orchestra musicians during this period could approach fifty percent in a season.  

The Classics Series increased to 8 pairs of Friday and Saturday night concerts, with Friday concerts being performed at the Stranahan Theater, an effort to reach more patrons.  In celebration of the Orchestra’s 30th anniversary in 1973, the Pops Series emerged and presented Arthur Fieldler, Doc Severinsen, Peter Nero and Dave Brubeck in the first year.   

Unusual repertoire was played for an orchestra of this size.  Debuts and premieres of works by strong and bold composers like Alban Berg and Edgar Varese; a program with the three major Stravinsky ballets in one evening; and an unstaged performance of Wagner’s Rheingold were all characteristic of Fournier’s faithfulness to quality and adventuresome programming.  Artistic highlights at the time included appearances by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Isaac Stern, Aaron Copland, Itzhak Perlman, and a 23-year old rising star, Andre Watts, in 1970.  (Watts celebrates his 60th birthday tour with a recital visit to Toledo in January, 2006.)

Personal duties in this decade included timpanist, personnel manager, librarian, and eventually interim director.  The budget grew from $200,000 to $700,000.  Efforts began in earnest to increase musical opportunities in Toledo, with the intention of attracting professional musicians to the community, and creating enough satisfying musical work to keep them here.  

Ensembles in each instrument family were formed, and outreach efforts into the schools continued.  The Orchestra maintained a regular performance schedule in public places, including a series on Sunday afternoons at area malls.  The neighborhood concert series was developed, with concerts at the State Theatre on Collingwood and the Sepia Theatre on Dorr Street.  A runout series to Perrysburg, Findlay, Monroe and Bedford also commenced.  The outreach program was intentional, systematic, and grew with each succeeding season.  An ecumenical music series began at the Rosary Cathedral in 1971, with the presentation of the Berlioz Requiem.  

The first significant endowment gift, designed to support this community outreach, was given by the Ford Foundation and matched locally by Ward and Miriam Canaday in 1971.  In addition to supporting neighborhood and runout series, the Endowment fund helped to place music teachers in area parochial schools, at least for a short time.  Such generosity seeded the Fund’s first million and anchored the endowment efforts of the Orchestra for the years ahead.

[A curious memory from this time “rises” from a Friday night Classics concert at the Stranahan Theatre, in which I was privileged to conduct the Orchestra.  This concert premiered Orff’s Carmina Burana in Toledo.  Musicians also performed Edgar Varese’ Ionisation, a piece written for percussion orchestra, in which the entire section rose in darkness from below on the Orchestra pit to stage level to perform the work.  (Serge Fournier also played the “siren” for this performance)  It was an experience!]  

DECADE THREE

The celebration of an anniversary provides occasion for reflection.  What follows in this, and coming, program books are a few of many, many noteworthy people, music and events that have transpired over my fifty seasons the Toledo Symphony.  The third decade will be covered here.

1976-1986 was a lively and pivotal decade for the Toledo Symphony.  It was a time of challenge, conflict, opportunity, and change, which ultimately set in motion concepts and ideals that are fundamental to the orchestra’s place in our community today. The financial growth alone testifies to the resolve of trustees and the community to significantly strengthen and support a resident professional orchestra for Toledo.  The annual operating budget grew from less than $700,000 to over $1,800,000 during this period.
 
During this time, board leadership changed several times.  In one unique season, a troika of board presidents led the organization, acting also as the office of the president.  As well, five different managers of the orchestra served in this decade.  It was a dynamic time for artistic leadership, transitioning from Serge Fournier’s fifteen years as Music Director to a culminating year that hosted several guest conductors to work with the orchestra.  The appointment of Joseph Silverstein as interim music director, seasons of guest conductors and finally, the appointment of Yuval Zaliouk as the seventh Music Director of the Toledo Symphony in 1980.  As the decade ended, John Williamson, President of Toledo Edison, was elected board president. He was the first in a long line of top executives who continue to lead the Association.
 
At one point, in an innovative move, the board appointed local business executive Lew Thomas as orchestra manager.  Lew had recently retired as Laboratory Manager for Sun Oil and accepted the job during a time of considerable challenge.  He served for two years which he said were "the toughest in his career.”  Following this role Lew continued as a valuable trustee and wonderful friend until his death in 2000.
 
Establishing the "core orchestra" was a strategy to help attract and retain professional musicians to reside in Toledo.  Initially focused on the principal players, musical opportunities were created to improve performance and income for about 22 musicians.  For the first time, a professional harpist was attracted to move to Toledo.  Since then, Principal Harpist Nancy Lendrim has remained in our community and continues to perform and instruct well beyond her regular assignments with the orchestra.  Others who moved to Toledo at this time were Concertmaster Kirk Toth and Principal Oboe Kim Bryden.  Today, the core orchestra has nearly 50 musicians living, working and teaching in Toledo, with the Toledo Symphony as their primary employer.
 
Many of the popular series enjoyed by audiences today, such as the Mozart, Chamber and Family series, began in this time.  The Friday/Saturday Classics Series was expanded to the current nine pairs and, at the end of the decade, the Friday concert was moved from the Stranahan Theater to the Peristyle.  After a several year hiatus, the neighborhood community outreach concerts were revived with a concert in January, 1986 at the Historic Saint Patrick’s Church in downtown Toledo.  These concerts have continued and expanded without interruption.
 
There were many significant artistic accomplishments and events, including a 40th Anniversary program with Itzhak Perlman, the first appearance of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the first visit by Maxim Shostakovich conducting the Toledo premier of his father’s Eighth Symphony. John Corigliano, now regarded as one of America’s most important composers, was present for performances of his music, as was the Norwegian composer Arne Nordhiem.  The orchestra also commissioned a Trombone Concerto by University of Michigan composer Leslie Bassett featuring H. Dennis Smith, Principal Trombonist at that time.  Congressman Lud Ashley was the narrator in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait in a Chamber Orchestra performance at Regina Coeli Church. 
 
Other interesting activities included raising funds in a telethon for the TSO at the new Channel 13 television studios on Dorr Street, participating in the opening of the Franciscan Center at Lourdes College and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater.  James G. Southworth left an estate gift enabling the purchase of the Steinway concert grand piano, which is in current use by the orchestra.
 
The decade began for me as Acting Manager, filling in during an executive search process, and continued with other assignments as personnel/orchestra manager and as principal timpanist.  This era culminated in my appointment in 1984 to my current position - for which I am grateful and honored to have been chosen.

DECADE FOUR

The celebration of an anniversary provides occasion for reflection.  What follows in the coming program books are just a few remembrances of many, many noteworthy people, music and events that have transpired over my fifty-year tenure with the Toledo Symphony.  The fourth decade will be covered here.

1986 through 1996 was a transformational decade.  During this period the artistic momentum combined with trustee leadership and endowment initiatives to establish the paradigm for the orchestra as we know it today.  Willard I. Webb III, Chairman of Ohio Citizens Bank, was elected the Association Board President, and Robert J. Lanigan, Chairman and CEO of Owens-Illinois, became Vice President.  Their leadership established a task force to bring focus and strength to developing the structure of the organization.  Bill Webb often characterized the "magnitude of the asset" in an effort to bring greater awareness of the Orchestra’s presence in the region.  Bob Lanigan then became Board President in 1986.  His decade of service remains the longest term served as President to this day.  With his leadership the Symphony 2000 endowment drive was implemented, and raised an unprecedented millions for the fund.  Lead donors to this campaign were Caroline Jobst, Marvin and Lenore Kobacker, and Fritz and Mary Wolfe.  The Lois Nitschke Principal Harp Chair was endowed.  It was the first of many endowed chairs to be received during this time.
 
Other significant trustee actions included the appointment of Judd Johnson as Secretary, a position he continues to hold as he completes his 30th year of service this season.  Bill Buckley, our current Treasurer, was elected to the board in this time as well, becoming an officer in 1991.  Other trustees still serving from this period include Richard Anderson, Sara Jane DeHoff, James Hoffman, George M. Jones III, Mark Pietrykowski, Marna Ramnath, Susan Reams, Sidney Ribeau, Carolyn Sauder, Tom Schmidt, David Snavely, John Szuch and Mary Wolfe.
 
The nine-year tenure of Music Director Yuval Zaliouk concluded in 1989 with engaging performances of the Mahler Second Symphony "Resurrection".  Preceding the appointment in 1990 of Andrew Massey as the orchestra’s eighth Music Director, the Danish composer and conductor Ole Schmidt served as Interim Principal Conductor.  James Meena was appointed the orchestra’s first Resident Conductor.  Young emerging soloists making debut appearances were violinists Midori, Joshua Bell and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and pianists Helene Grimaud, Simone Pedroni and Awadagin Pratt.  Fifteen-year-old Hilary Hahn made a dramatic debut with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, filling in on very short notice for the ailing Mstistlav Rostropovich.
 
Andrew Massey conducted a number of exciting and engaging works including the Toledo premieres of the Eighth Symphony by Anton Bruckner and the Benjamin Britten “War Requiem” with the University of Michigan Chorale Union in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II.  New works of Charles Wuorinen and Stanley Cowell were commissioned and premiered by the orchestra during this time.  The 50th anniversary of the Toledo Symphony was celebrated in 1993 with concerts led by Serge Fournier, Yuval Zaliouk and Andrew Massey.  Maxim Shostakovich, his sister Galina and his son Dimitri participated in a series of concerts and events in honor of his father, Dimitri.  Timpanist Sally Rochotte was featured in the area premiere of a concerto "The Forest" by the German composer Siegfried Matthus.  After hearing a recording of her performance, Siegfried Matthus recommended Sally to the Cleveland Orchestra as a soloist during a week when he was Visiting Composer in that city.
 
Popular entertainers appearing with the orchestra included Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Dudley Moore, Bobby McFerrin, and a performance at Savage Hall with the Moody Blues.  The Vienna Boys Choir and Steve Allen also made TSO debuts. Trustee Caroline Jobst hosted the entire choir, Steve Allen, and the Shostakovich family for extraordinary post-concert receptions in her home.  Former member of the Toledo Symphony, Chip Davis, founder of Mannheim Steamroller, brought his ensemble to Toledo for premiere performances with the Orchestra.  Important special events with the Orchestra included participation in the opening of the Freed Center at Ohio Northern University and a collaboration with Toledo Rotary on the occasion of the Club’s 75th anniversary, presenting Itzhak Perlman in concert to benefit PolioPlus. 

Clint Mauk, a retired banking executive, was the first Development officer for the Orchestra.  Although he was succeeded by Kathleen Carroll, he continues to be a valued trustee and friend.  In addition to Kathy, Randi Dier joined the staff as Vice President of Finance.  Key orchestral appointments included principal players Martha Reikow, cello, Joan Weiler, bassoon, Sandra Clark, horn and Dan Harris, trombone.
 
As the decade ended, the financial resources of the Orchestra continued to improve.  The annual budget grew from $1.8 million to $3.8 million and the Endowment Fund exceeded $6 million.  These developments allowed a range of programs to be strengthened and continued the efforts to make the Toledo Symphony and the community an attractive consideration for professional musicians.  The decade concluded with Edward Schmidt endowing the Principal Trombone Chair and the election of Glen Hiner, Chairman and CEO of Owens Corning, as President of the Association Board.

DECADE FIVE

The celebration of an anniversary provides occasion for reflection.  What follows are just a few remembrances of many, many noteworthy people, music and events that have transpired over my fifty-year tenure with the Toledo Symphony.  The fifth decade will be covered here.

Glen Hiner, Chairman and CEO of Owens Corning, was elected the Orchestra Association Board Chairman in 1996 and brought a fresh perspective and business model to the Association.  During this time, my title was changed from Managing Director to President & CEO, a model that many American orchestras now follow.  Succeeding Glen in 2000 was Joseph Magliocetti of Dana Corporation, a thoughtful and committed advocate for the Toledo Symphony.  Joe’s tragic and untimely death in 2003 advanced Richard P. Anderson, Chairman of The Andersons, Inc. to the role of Association Board Chairman during the Orchestra’s 60th Anniversary season. During Dick’s term as Chairman, and throughout his continuing work as a trustee, he deepened his appreciation and affection for the work of the Orchestra by attending countless series events and by getting to know many members of the Orchestra.  Now he has accepted a vital assignment as Chairman of the Orchestra’s development initiatives.  Michael H. Thaman, Chairman and CFO of Owens Corning, took the helm in the fall of 2006 as Board Chairman.  

This decade saw the successful completion of the Symphony 2000 Endowment Fund campaign, the first phase of a critically important financial stabilization plan.  Significant contributors included the Stranahan Foundation and family, Edward H. Schmidt, Sara Jane & William DeHoff, Jonathan Orser, the Miniger Foundation, and George Seifried.  These partners, along with others, demonstrated efforts to strengthen the Orchestra’s ability to exist and to grow.

Artistically, the last ten years have been characterized by appearances of significant guest conductors and artists, and a noteworthy number of new principal musicians moving to Toledo to join the Orchestra.  Each has had a significant impact on our performances, as acknowledged by our enthusiastic and faithful audiences and supporters.

Since the late 1990’s, invitations to guest conductors such as Peter Oundjian, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Alan Gilbert, Yoav Talmi, Giordano Bellincampi and Grant Llewellyn, provided the Orchestra an opportunity to experience a variety of musical views and disciplines.  Such exposure refines the Orchestra’s rehearsal and performance ethic, and provides fresh musical insight.  This period also resulted in the appointment of Stefan Sanderling as Principal Guest Conductor in 2003, and Principal Conductor in 2004.  Chelsea Tipton, II, was appointed Resident Conductor in 2004.  

Principal musician appointments within the decade have added significantly to our community of resident professional musicians in Northwestern Ohio.  These include violinists Naomi Guy, Merwin Siu and Rita Lammers; violists Valentin Ragusitu and Ellen Craig Archambeau; Joel Tse, flute; Georg Klaas, clarinet; Rudi Heinrich, bassoon; Lauraine Carpenter, trumpet; Garth Simmons, trombone; David Saltzman, tuba; and Gabe Sobieski, percussion.

Mstislav Rostropovich was perhaps the most significant musical guest of the decade, and arguably, within the history of the Orchestra.  The famous cellist, who first appeared in 1998 returned at his request in 2002 as part of his 75th birthday tour, selecting to perform this significant anniversary with very few American orchestras.  His enthusiasm for our Orchestra and his comfort within our community were the reasons for his return.  Other significant artists during this decade were cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinists Midori and Sarah Chang, and pianist Stewart Goodyear.  Bobby McFerrin returned in 2005 to conduct the Orchestra for a pair of standing room only Classics Series concerts at the Peristyle.  Popular artists of note were Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers, and Tito Puente, whose Toledo performance was one of his final concerts before his death in 2000.

Stefan Sanderling conducted a special tribute concert on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.  It was a deeply moving musical experience for all involved, which included masterfully integrated comments that brought a special relevance for a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.  Other musical memories include the Rachmaninoff Festival weekend in 2005, during which the Orchestra and several guest pianists (all Van Cliburn competition finalists) performed the five major piano concerti, the Choral Vespers with Masterworks Chorale, and a recital featuring several of the composer’s dual piano works.  

The decade brought new and exciting music to Toledo audiences.  Maxim Shostakovich visited Toledo during this period – one of the most memorable was the first performance in Toledo of his father’s 4th Symphony.  A unique piece of American music by Michael Daugherty, The Metropolis Symphony, was premiered in 2001.  The Edward H. Schmidt Musical Arts Fund, established in 2001, enabled the commissioning of a new Concerto for Orchestra, by Lowell Liebermann.  The piece was premiered in September 2002, under the direction of guest conductor Grant Llewellyn.  Nine area composers were invited to participate in Orchestra’s 60th Anniversary Fanfare Project in 2003-2004.  This resulted in the commissioning of nine new fanfare works for orchestra, composed by TSO musicians, university faculty members, and music students.

A variety of community collaborations continued and several expanded during this time, including new dimensions to the Orchestra’s educational outreach.  A program funding music teachers for students at the Toledo School for the Arts began, and the Music In Our Schools program emerged in 2006 to foster relationships between TSO musicians and budding instrumentalists in high school music programs.  Regional outreach has expanded further across the tri-state area, including performances as far as Chillicothe, Ohio, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and Goshen, Indiana.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York invited the Orchestra to submit proposals to participate in its Orchestra Forum project in 2000.  Successful participation has resulted in over $2 million in support of innovative programming, musical activities and the endowment fund.  This was an unprecedented investment from an organization outside of our region.  Funding from the Mellon Foundation has assisted many TSO musicians with career enhancing grants and unique professional development opportunities.

Collaboration with the Toledo Museum of Art invited the relocation of the Toledo Symphony Administrative offices to the Professional Building on the TMA campus in 2001.  The new location, with its proximity to the Peristyle Theater and useful amenities including rehearsal hall and practice studios, has provided artistic synergy for the core Orchestra family.  A long history of successful partnership with the Museum continues.

   
Bob Bell
President & CEO
(c) 2007