Any history of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra must begin with its founder, Mrs. Leta G. Snow. From its conception until her retirement, Mrs. Snow was the prime force behind the orchestra. The KSO's first concert was on December 18, 1921, with 25 musicians under conductor Chester Z. Bronson. Mr. Bronson, a clarinetist who had toured the world with John Philip Sousa, donated his time and the use of his collection of orchestral music.
With a budget of $600, the first concert was well received by an audience which, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette, was "comfortably filled the auditorium of the Masonic Temple." By 1928, the budget was more that $5,000, the orchestra had grown to 75 musicians and was led by its fourth conductor, David Mattern. Mrs. Snow had become manager of the orchestra and executive secretary of the Kalamazoo Symphony Society.
Mrs. Snow built the orchestra by recruiting quality musicians from other parts of the country and finding jobs for them at businesses owned by her friends. One of the best examples is that of Mischa Livschutz, a violinist who had left Russia in 1917. Having heard of Kalamazoo's growing symphony while living in New York, he became the KSO's concertmaster in 1927 and received housing and a job from Mrs. Snow. Hans B. Baldauf, astronomer, sculptor, musician, and artist, was also drawn to Kalamazoo by Leta Snow. Unable to find work as a cellist, he wrote to Mrs. Snow from Chicago asking for help. She found him a job in the art department at the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, and he became an important member not only of the Symphony, but also of the community at large. The planetarium at the old Kalamazoo Public Museum was named for him.
Thanks largely to Mrs. Snow's efforts, the Symphony actually grew during the Depression years. Dr. Herman Felber, Jr., was named conductor in 1934, a post he would hold for 25 years. By 1937, the orchestra had 80 musicians on its roster and was cited by Professor A.D. Zanzig of Harvard University as a model musical organization for small cities. A tradition of strong volunteer support for the Symphony began in 1930 with the founding of the Women's Committee, later known as the Women's Symphony Association and now called the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League.
By the late 1930s the orchestra had begun to offer educational and community service programs. In 1939, under Dr. Felber's guidance, the Symphony initiated annual auditions for youth soloists which continue today.
During the 1940s the growing stature and professionalism of the Orchestra was reflected by the outstanding guest artists who came to perform with the orchestra -- Isaac Stern, Artur Rubinstein, and Georges Enesco, to name but a few.
In 1949, Mrs. Snow retired from her post of Kalamazoo Symphony manager. She died in 1980 at the age of 100.
During the season following Herman Felber, Jr.'s retirement, there were six guest conductors, including Gregory Millar, who became resident conductor and music director in 1961. The following years saw a number of significant expansions, including the first Art Center recitals by symphony musicians, more concerts for young people, and concerts in neighboring cities. The first of the "Starlight" concerts was held in 1962. This summertime series of outdoor concerts, performed atop the downtown Gilmore's parking garage, featured popular artists like Louis Armstrong and Henry Mancini.
Pierre Hetu became the Symphony's seventh conductor in 1968, a year which also saw the establishment of scholarships for WMU string players, carrying an obligation to perform with the Symphony.
During the 25-year tenure of Music Director and Conductor Yoshimi Takeda, from 1974 to 1999, the Kalamazoo Symphony achieved a standard of musical excellence that would have been inconceivable to its founders. Maestro Takeda's tenure saw the establishment of the Family Discovery Series, Sunday Classics chamber orchestra concerts in Kalamazoo College's Stetson Chapel, annual GospelFest benefit concerts, and the Summer Park Concerts.
The appointment of Raymond Harvey as Music Director in 1999 marked the beginning of a new era for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. The subscription series at Miller Auditorium, annual holiday presentations, chamber orchestra concerts, free summer park concerts, and numerous educational programs provide the core of Kalamazoo's musical life. Symphony musicians teach privately, in local schools, at Western Michigan University and at Kalamazoo College, perform in chamber groups, at church services, and in other orchestras around the region. The dedicated Board of Directors and staff of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra work to maintain the orchestra's financial and administrative health. The donors and supporters -- individuals, businesses, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League -- all help to make our orchestra possible.