Click to view “Founding of the MSO” on YouTube, a documentary video by Santiago Charry.
The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra Beginnings
In the early 1980s, a number of us had recently graduated from colleges where we had the opportunity to play in excellent orchestras. We were dissatisfied with the lack of focus on serious rehearsing and quality performance that we found in many community orchestras at that time. In the summer of 1982, several of us met and decided to start a group oriented to performing difficult repertoire very well.
We got the group off the ground thanks to committed players and to many others who believed in our vision. Volunteering his services during the first year, Steve Amundson of St. Olaf College became our founding Music Director. The St. Olaf Music Department, and especially Bob Johnson, helped with organization, alumni contacts, and many loans of music. Central Lutheran Church members Lois Rand and Klara Johnson and Music Director John Ferguson provided tremendous guidance and support and sponsored our relationship with Central. The Central Lutheran congregation itself has remained committed to a mutually beneficial and invaluable relationship for over 30 years. Early orchestra board members, notably including Kent and Katherine Eklund as well as Lois, Klara, and many others, provided the organizational experience to help the orchestra establish a lasting presence.
We began rehearsals shortly after Labor Day 1982. Our first performances included a private function at Lutheran Brotherhood and accompanying at Christmas at Central. We first performed publicly as the Central Chamber Orchestra on February 25, 1983. The program included Beethoven’s Symphony #2 in D; Prokofiev’s Classic Symphony; and Handel’s Organ Concerto in B flat, featuring John Ferguson.
Growth and New Music Directors
Early on, we realized that a focus on the players only would not sustain us. Our mission quickly evolved to include a commitment to provide access to good orchestra music, free of charge, throughout the metropolitan area. As years went by we also found that our commitment to working hard and playing well brought us more and more players who wanted to be part of that experience, and the group grew in numbers. These two developments made our original name feel less of a good fit.
Around that time, Manny Laureano joined as our second Music Director. Manny brought consummate musicianship, a cosmopolitan sensibility, and a panache that helped further define our artistic identity. No less importantly, he showed us the importance of making a conscious commitment to operating as a full-size symphony orchestra, and played a leading role in the discussions that led to our current name. Manny also brought a new visibility to our group that attracted top-level professionals who wanted to play as guest artists, a tradition that continues to this day.
Manny was followed as Music Director by William Intriligator. Though a young guy, William brought a wonderful “old school” outlook (that’s classical, not rap) as well as great musical maturity and depth. Our playing of the Romantic masters took on an extraordinarily sensitive, expressive sound and feel. William continued reaching out to partner with other arts organizations in innovative ways.
William Schrickel, our current Music Director, came to us with great talents and experience and huge enthusiasm. Bill already appreciated our group’s strengths and has nurtured them with a focus and care that have born great fruit. Bill’s work with the orchestra is often associated with terms like collaborative; brilliant, innovative programming; committed; and superlative. He has a relationship with the players, board, venues, and audience that builds on everything the orchestra has built in the past and creates great momentum for the future. Bill has led us from artistic strength to strength, and our reputation for artistic excellence, collaboration and community engagement continues to grow.
Through the years, we have been fortunate to develop relationships with congregations, corporate sponsors, and faithful audience members. Our fine music directors have nurtured the group and helped us play with world-class soloists on a regular basis. We have continued to attract committed players and board members. All of these people have been responsible for realizing our vision.
After more than 30 years, we have matured from a group of recent college graduates into a truly inter-generational undertaking. We have grown and developed as a performing ensemble, but just as importantly we have matured as a network of supporters, a committed and professional board, and a community that can sustain our mission into the future.
Our first years have in many ways gone beyond what we had even hoped to achieve back in 1982, and we can’t wait to see what the next 30+ years will bring.
by Jim Waldo