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Springfield Symphony Orchestra

The present-day Springfield Symphony Orchestra grew out of a strong interest in the community and the vision of Alexander Leslie, the Symphony’s first conductor. In the early 1940’s, Leslie was the conductor of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, an amateur orchestra located in Greenfield. After several favorable reviews, especially an article that appeared in The New York Times in February 1943, Leslie decided that he might be ready to assume the leadership of a professional orchestra, and Springfield, without an orchestra, seemed an obvious place to start. As a result of discussions with Willard Clark, music critic of the Springfield Daily Union (and the man known at that time as the “Prime Minister of Musical Culture” in Springfield) and members of the Tuesday Morning Music Club, the cultural leadership of the City added its support to the project. With favorable and enthusiastic community support, Leslie went to work assembling a first-class ensemble. After almost a year of preparation, the SSO gave its first concert on March 5, 1944 in the Municipal Auditorium to the standing ovation of a capacity audience of 3,400. The Office of War Information recorded the program for re-broadcast overseas. Critical reviews in the local press were very favorable and the orchestra was off to a brilliant start.

Leslie, along with others instrumental in establishing the orchestra, realized that the community needed much more than just a symphony. They knew that the City also needed music education beyond what was offered in the schools. That realization led Leslie to establish the Young People’s Symphony in 1944 in collaboration with the Springfield Public Schools, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and the Springfield City Library. For fifty years, the Young People’s Symphony has provided meaningful musical education for thousands of aspiring music students. Leslie knew that choral music was an important part of any advanced musical community. In recognition of that fact, the Springfield Symphony Chorus was organized when he invited 150 voices to join the Symphony in a performance of Brahms’ “Schicksalslied” on April 22, 1945, Since then, the chorus has performed with the orchestra on a regular basis and has allowed the symphony to present a wider range of offerings to its audience. The tradition established by the Springfield Symphony Chorus continues the City’s legacy of quality presentations that began with the Handel and Hayden Society in the early nineteenth century. Don’t forget to check out this place in Springfield too.

The founders of the SSO realized from the outset that if they were to survive longer than previous orchestras in the City’s history, the organization would need strong and sustained support. Toward that end, Mrs. Douglas Wallace, a member of the Board of Directors, organized the Women’s Symphony League in 1948. Mrs. Wallace served as the League’s first President. After the untimely death of Alexander Leslie, Richard Burgin, Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, finished the remainder of the 1954-1955 season. That summer, the Board of Directors appointed Robert L. Staffanson as Director. Staffanson began his formal musical training in San Francisco where he studied violin and conducting. He furthered his education at Montana State University School of Music, where he received a Bachelor’s of Music and a Master’s of Music. After completing his formal education, he served as conductor of the Billings Symphony Orchestra, while there he developed a youth program and a Symphony Chorus. Under Staffanson’s baton, the Symphony continued the tradition of excellence established by Alexander Leslie. Many important, internationally recognized soloists performed with the SSO, including one of the great American “pianists of the day, Gary Graffman. Through Staffanson’s effort the SSO broadcast a series of concerts on WFUV-FM in New York City. Continuing the SSO devotion to education, Staffanson initiated a series of discussions prior to each concert in 1956. The following year he organized the SSO Woodwind Quintet, which performed at Carnegie Hall in 1959. By his 14th and final season he had expanded the school outreach program to 80 concerts. With the 1970-1971 season, Robert Gutter assumed the podium of the SSO. Upon graduation from New York’s High School of Music and Art, Gutter was appointed Principal Trombonist of the National Symphony, a position he held for five years. While in Washington he also launched his conducting career, gaining critical recognition from Paul Hume, Music Critic of the Washington Post. Prior to his appointment in Springfield, Gutter served as Conductor of the Washington Collegium, the Des Moines Symphony, and the Springfield, Ohio Symphony. After his first appearance here, Paul Conway of the Springfield Daily News commented that, “Robert Gutter showed himself to be an exceptionally fine musician with a sure knowledge of what he wants from his orchestra.” If you are ever in need of a cabinet maker, click here.

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