Transform our community through the power of music.
To enrich the lives of our diverse community through exceptional music and dynamic programs.
Get into the Past
Best known as the birthplace of blues and rock ‘n roll, Memphis also boasts a rich heritage of symphonic and classical music. In the earliest days of the Bluff City, new settlers to the rough, raw, river town brought their musical traditions along. It was common for ladies to learn to play the piano, and many gentlemen enjoyed playing the fiddle. As Memphians, these amateur musicians and their patrons promoted their passion through such groups as The Casino Club, the Philharmonic Society, and later, the Beethoven Club.
In the spirit of those musical pioneers, twenty-one musicians formed the Memphis Sinfonietta and performed their first concert at the Goodwyn Institute in January 1953. When audiences swelled past capacity, the Sinfonietta moved to downtown’s Ellis Auditorium -- later renamed in honor of the founding conductor and music director, Vincent de Frank. By 1960 the Sinfonietta matured into the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO). The MSO moved into Eudora Baptist Church while the de Frank Music Hall underwent a multi-million dollar transformation into a world-class concert venue. The work took six years. In January 2003 the orchestra came home to the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, one of the nation’s best acoustic facilities for live orchestral music.
The MSO is directed by a board of community, business, music, and civic leaders. The MSO has only had four Music Director/Conductors. Alan Balter replaced Maestro de Frank on the podium as music director and conductor in 1984. Less than a year after Balter retired in 1998 Maestro David Loebel joined the symphony. Maestro Loebel retired in 2010 and was replaced by current Music Director Mei-Ann Chen. Music Director Chen is in great demand all over the country as a guest conductor. In July of 2011, she assumed the music directorship of the Chicago Sinfonietta, only the second person in the orchestra's history to hold this position. Music Director Chen recently extended her contract with the Memphis Symphony for an additional three years, keeping her in the position of Music Director through the 2015-2016 season.
Get into the Family
The MSO’s immediate family extends beyond the staff, the conductor, the 36 core musicians, and the dozens of per service or extra musicians. The Memphis Symphony Chorus began in 1965 as a group of thirty singers, directed by Maestro de Frank and rehearsed by Sarah Beth Causey. The Chorus sings with the orchestra at special concerts on pieces ranging from popular Christmas tunes to ancient requiems. Today’s Chorus is made up of 100 volunteer vocalists who perform under the direction of Principal Conductor, Robert Moody with Dr. Lawrence Edwards as artistic director. In 1966 the symphony created the Memphis Youth Symphony Program (MYSP) which continues to serve over 250 musicians each year as an independent organization. From 1995 until 2007 Vincent Danner, who served the MSO as associate conductor, also served as conductor of the MYSP. In 2008 James Feddeck, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Michigan, became the symphony’s first assistant conductor. Stilian Kirov, associate conductor of the Memphis Symphony between 2009 and 2012, was Music Director of MYSP. Mr. Kirov graduated from the Orchestral Conducting Program of The Juilliard School, where he studied with Maestro James DePreist. He also holds a master’s degree from Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, where his teacher was Dominique Rouits. Thich has sponsored the MSO and its programs since 1958. The League’s achievements in fundraising, ticket sales, promotions, and community education programs earned it a reputation as one of the nation’s most successful symphony orchestra support groups. The education programs it has developed for use in public schools have won national awards for excellence.
Get into the Community
In Memphis, music matters. Each year the MSO generates about $10.2 million for the local economy and creates 135 jobs. The 550-member MSO family brings symphonic music to more than half a million people annually, whether they tune in on the radio or attend a live performance. The MSO works hand-in-hand with artistic organizations such as Stax Music Academy, Playhouse on the Square, Opera Memphis, Ballet Memphis, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, the Brooks Museum, and The Cultural Development Foundation of Memphis to push the limits of artistic invention and wow concert-goers with unique entertainment. Such bold programming has garnered national attention and awards in recent years. The MSO believes strongly in its responsibility to engage with the community.
The League of American Orchestras reports that the MSO is a national leader in providing free community service concerts -- and music education in the Mid-South owes much of its talent and resources to the Symphony. In addition to presenting dozens of educational concerts and events each year, the musicians of the MSO reach thousands of young music students by giving private lessons, visiting public and private schools, and teaching courses at institutions such as Rhodes College, the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Mississippi.
When they are not enchanting audiences with their musical gifts, the individual members of the MSO give their free time to fill such diverse and meaningful roles as a recreational softball referee, Special Olympics volunteer, academic tutor in the Memphis City Schools, and religious school teacher.
International Conducting Competition
During May 25-27, 2011 ten finalists gathered in Memphis to compete for the MSO's Inaugural International Conducting Competition. There was jury of distinguished members present to judge, including: Robert Spano
, Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Fogg
, Artistic Administrator of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Aaron Jay Kernis
, Pulitzer prize winning Composer and Professor at Yale School of Music. Prizes were as follows: First Place-The Joy Brown Wiener Musical Excellence Award - $7500, Second Place - $3000, and Special Mention - $1000 as well as the opportunity to conduct the Memphis Symphony Orchestra once more in a First Tennessee Masterworks concert in October 2012.
First-place prize went to Ken Lam, who set aside a law career to pursue his love of music and conducting. He is assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Lam appeared as a guest conductor with the MSO in the 2012-2013 season for a Paul & Linnea Bert Classic Accents performance. Roger Kalia, a native of New York and music director of the Columbus (Indiana) Symphony, took the second prize, and Aram Demijrian, a conducting student at the New England Conservatory, won third place. The three conducted pieces by Dvorák, Hindemith and Ravel in October 2012. The 2nd International Conducting Competition has not yet been announced.
Get into the Future
The Memphis Symphony Orchestra is one of the most innovative orchestras in the country. The MSO takes community engagement to a new level, forging partnerships with Soulsville and Federal Express to engage the community in mutually beneficial activities beginning with receptions, mentoring, and work presentations. Recognizing the opportunities for replicating the program in other orchestras, the Mellon Foundation awarded the MSO one of four grants to ensure the future of American orchestras. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra family enriches the cultural appeal of the city, making Memphis a place where it is truly possible for everyone to “get into the music.”