music.minnesota.publicradio.orgSaint Paul Chamber Orchestra

A Short History
1959 to 1997

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1959 under the auspices of The Saint Paul Philharmonic Society. The Society had been founded the previous year to develop a four-point music program featuring youth, educational and community presentations through several orchestral groups, including the establishment of a fully professional, first-rate chamber orchestra. In the fall of 1959, Leopold Sipe was hired as music director of the Philharmonic Society and conductor of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. As stated in its first program from November 18, 1959, the SPCO's artistic goal was to "devote the major portion of its programs to the wonderful literature, both classic and contemporary, that is not ordinarily played by large symphonies."

Early on, the SPCO undertook projects to broaden its reach to audiences through such activities as recording, commissioning works by noted composers, and performing regularly at venues throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. The Chamber Orchestra made its Carnegie Hall debut on February 20, 1969 with New York critics praising the "sparkling performances." As a tradition of neighborhood performances and regional touring was established, the Chamber Orchestra's motto became "Music on the Move,"' a philosophy that remains a hallmark of the SPCO.

Dennis Russell Davies, considered one of the country's leading proponents and conductors of contemporary music, became SPCO music director in 1972. The 28-year-old Davies was already recognized as one of America's most brilliant young conductors, having headed the Juilliard Ensemble. With his long hair and passion for motorcycles and baseball, Davies was a popular and colorful leader of the SPCO. During eight years with the Chamber Orchestra, Davies initiated an innovative series that paired traditional concert repertoire with contemporary works and world premieres on the same program.

Davies upgraded the quality of the ensemble, attracting such high-quality players as violinist Romuald Tecco, who remains concertmaster more than 20 years after coming to the SPCO. Widely acclaimed tours of Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union were made with performances in more than 35 international and 140 American cities. During Davies' tenure, the SPCO came to be recognized by critics as America's premier chamber orchestra and as one of the nation's most adventurous orchestral ensembles. In 1979, Davies and the SPCO earned a Grammy Award for best classical recording of the year for Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Davies left the SPCO in 1980 to become general music director of the Stuttgart Opera.

Pinchas Zukerman succeeded Davies in 1980, bringing a new level of prominence to the SPCO. During the Zukerman years, the SPCO's subscription base tripled and the concert season was significantly expanded. The Chamber Orchestra's reputation grew with repeated invitations to such prestigious festivals as Ravinia and Palm Beach and with frequent appearances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and New York's Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls. Under Zukerman's direction, the SPCO made 12 recordings on such labels as RCA Victor Red Seal, CBS Masterworks and Philips Classics. These popular recordings feature performances by an array of internationally recognized artists, including Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, and Isaac Stern.

One of Zukerman's highest priorities was the promotion and development of a new concert hall to serve as a permanent home for the Chamber Orchestra. The spectacular Ordway Music Theatre, with its European styling and intimate design, opened in January 1985 with the SPCO as a principal user. In 1987, Zukerman stepped down as music director to concentrate on his recital and concert career. The Chamber Orchestra named Stanislaw Skrowaczewski as music advisor to provide artistic leadership during the 1987-88 season while a search for a successor was undertaken.

In September 1987 the SPCO announced the creation of the Artistic Commission, which brought together the positions of director of music, principal conductor, and creative chair in an innovative leadership team. Members of the Artistic Commission included British conductor, performer, and scholar Christopher Hogwood as director of music; Hugh Wolff as principal conductor; and composer John Adams as creative chair, succeeded in 1990 by composer/conductor John Harbison.

Hugh Wolff assumed the role of SPCO music director and responsibility for the Chamber Orchestra's overall artistic policies and programming in 1992-93. Christopher Hogwood has continued his association with the SPCO as principal guest conductor, and in 1993 Aaron Jay Kernis joined the artistic staff as composer-in-residence, a post he held until 1996. Embarking on an innovative partnership, Bobby McFerrin joined the SPCO artistic team in the 1994 as it creative chair. The position focuses on development of creative programming and educational initiatives and spotlights the Grammy Award-winning musician in the roles of conductor, performer and educator. Bobby McFerrin will retain the creative chair position through the 1997-98 season.

In 1995, the SPCO introduced CONNECT (Chamber Orchestra's Neighborhood Networks of Education, Curriculum and Teachers), an education program launched in partnership with Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. Spearheaded by Hugh Wolff and Bobby McFerrin, the multi-year program is designed to re-infuse music learning in schools. Now in its fourth year, CONNECT involves students in 17 area schools.

In contrast to its modest four-concert inaugural season in 1959, the SPCO now presents more than 150 concerts in a 38-week season. It has received eight awards for adventuresome programming by The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in the past 17 years. The SPCO is heard by hundreds of thousands in concert appearances and millions more through nationally distributed radio broadcasts.

The SPCO continues to make extensive national and international tours. In May 1993 the Chamber Orchestra completed a tremendously successful three-week, five-country European tour with James Galway and Emanuel Ax. Performing in Europe's most prestigious concert halls, Wolff and the SPCO met with rave reviews from enthusiastic audiences and critics alike, playing to sold-out houses and standing ovations across Europe. In the spring of 1996, Hugh Wolff led the SPCO on its acclaimed first concert tour of Japan. Wolff and the Chamber Orchestra will be joined by American pianist Richard Goode and Austrian violinist Hannah Weinmeister for the SPCO's ninth international tour, starting in September 1997. The tour will bring the orchestra to Germany, Austria, Vienna, Slovenia, Slovakia and England, and includes concerts at the Musikverein in Vienna and London's Barbican Centre.

The SPCO performs frequently at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Chicago's Orchestra Hall, and it makes regular appearances at a number of prestigious music festivals. The SPCO additionally devotes two weeks per season to regional touring and performs approximately 15 concerts in the Upper Midwest each year, touring domestically more than any other major American orchestra. In 1995, the SPCO undertook a two-week national tour including a stop at New York's Avery Fisher Hall and a two-week Midwest tour led by Bobby McFerrin, During the 1996-97 season, the SPCO embarked on three national tours: McFerrin led the Chamber Orchestra on an eight-city West Coast tour in August 1996 and a six-city Southeast tour in January 1997, while violinist Gil Shaham performed with Hugh Wolff and the SPCO on a two-week tour in the fall of 1996. Starting in January 1998, Wolff and the Chamber Orchestra tour nationally for two weeks with Emanuel Ax.

The SPCO's national reputation is further strengthened through its 26-concert radio broadcast series distributed to 160 stations coast-to-coast on the Public Radio International network, making the SPCO one of the most widely broadcast orchestras in the country. In addition, the SPCO has an impressive discography, having released more than 58 albums on such labels as Teldec, London/Decca, Philips Classics, CBS Masterworks, RCA Victor Red Seal, and Nonesuch. A recording contract begun in 1989 with London Decca has yielded four albums led by Christopher Hogwood.

In June 1990, Hugh Wolff and the SPCO announced a new multi-disc recording contract with Teldec. An ambitious schedule of recordings has followed with fourteen discs released to date including an all-Respighi recording, a disc featuring works by Hungarian composers Bartok and Kodaly, and an all-Copland album with Grammy Award-winning artists Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson which rose to the top of Billboard Magazine's classical charts. Other releases have included works by Copland, Dvorak, Haydn, Ravel, Debussy, and the best-selling "Christmas with Thomas Hampson" album that remained on Billboard's top crossover albums chart for two months in 1992.

"Paper Music," the first recorded collaboration between the SPCO and Bobby McFerrin, was released by Sony Classical in July 1995. The disc marks McFerrin's recording debut as a conductor and has been a top-seller on the Billboard charts since its release.

In 1996 Teldec released two more discs with Hugh Wolff leading the SPCO. One is a recording of Stravinsky's Pulcinella (complete ballet) and Renard Suites Nos. 1 and 2. The other features Sergei Nakariakov in "Baroque Trumpet Concertos." In October of 1996, Sony Classical released " The Mozart Sessions," which includes Bobby McFerrin, pianist Chick Corea, and the Chamber Orchestra performing Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 23, as well as variations on an aria from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.

Now in its 39th season of music-making, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has moved to the top echelon of America's major orchestras, gaining wide recognition as a world-class musical ensemble.

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