Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra
The Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra (CUSO) is a professional orchestra located in the Champaign-Urbana Metropolitan Area in central Illinois. The Orchestra is the Professional Orchestra in Residence at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The CUSO welcomes new Music Director and Conductor Stephen Alltop in the 2013-2014 season, following the retirement of Maestro Steven Larsen in 2012 after serving as music director/conductor of the CUSO for 17 years.
The Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1959 by two music teachers in the Unit 4 School District, Mrs. Martha Wendt, a violinist, and Gilbert Papp, a clarinetist, with the help of W. J. Roberts, a well-known personality on local television.
The three founders believed that a local symphony orchestra would have to be truly professional to prosper and grow. That meant that members would have to attend every rehearsal as well as concerts and to be paid for their services. (This was an important stipulation because previous local orchestras had failed when good players bypassed rehearsals and were insufficiently prepared to play the public performances.)
Both Wendt and Papp were members of the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, which was very interested in the venture, and with whom a wage scale for players was determined. The local union also agreed to pay each player a small concert fee from the Recording Industries Music Performance Trust Fund.
The founders realized that the success of an orchestra depended to a large extent on the conductor. They felt that one of the biggest hurdles had been passed when Bernard Goodman approved the founders’ plans and agreed to assemble a local orchestra. Goodman, in his role as conductor of the University of Illinois student orchestra and as a member of the Walden String Quartet, had received critical acclaim as a musician and a conductor. Due to his knowledge of the available area music talent, he would be able to pick his players from the music school faculty, the Graduate College and also include many talented townspeople.
The founders, with the help of Professor Duane Brannigan, Director of the University of Illinois School of Music, and Verrollton C. Shaul, Music Director of Champaign Unit 4 Schools, the founders secured the use of Smith Memorial Hall for the Orchestra's performances. Rehearsals were held in the high school band room.
Having disposed of the main physical problems, it was now time to attend to legal matters. Attorney Donald D. Richmond handled the founders’ application for non-profit corporation status, and on February 13, 1960, the Illinois Secretary of State signed the registration papers. The Champaign-Urbana Civic Symphony Orchestra, as it was first named, was registered under the “General Not-for-profit Corporate Act.” Under the articles of incorporation, it stated that the purpose of the Corporation was to “provide cultural and educational musical concerts for the general public in and around the area of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois.” It also allowed the corporation to solicit funds for carrying out this purpose. This was the next and greatest hurdle.
Roberts had visited a Champaign businessman, Mr. H. I. Gelvin, who had many local interests. He listened to a brief description of the founders’ plans, but his first reaction was decidedly negative. However, later in the day, after thinking it over, he changed his mind and sent a check to Roberts for $500, with his best wishes for a successful project.
That check was most timely, for on the following day, the founders had an appointment with Colonel Anderson, Manager of the Urbana Division of the Magnavox Company. The colonel had been an active worker for the Fort Wayne Symphony, and from this experience he advised the trio, quite frankly, that they would undergo great opposition in raising the amount of money he knew was needed from the Champaign-Urbana community. However, when he was shown Mr. Gelvin’s check, his attitude changed, and the Magnavox Company decided to contribute $1,500.
On May 24, 1960, the first meeting of the Symphony Board of Directors took place, and plans for the 1960-1961 concert season were drawn up. The first symphony Board was composed of the founders, Wendt, Papp and Roberts, joined by Joe Armstrong, John Diamond, Mr. B. L. Dodds, H. I. Gelvin, Stanley W. Rahn, Donald D. Richmond, Verrollton C. Shaul, Mrs. C. E. Stewart, Hugh G. Wales and Mrs. W. M. Youngerman. Officers were Diamond, president, Roberts, vice-president, Papp, treasurer and Rahn, secretary.
While Bernard Goodman was arranging auditions and assembling what one reviewer later called “A high-spirited, hard-working group” of sixty musicians for a two-concert season, the board members were assembling potential member mailing lists, printing subscription forms, contacting patrons, sponsors, contributors and soliciting new subscribers. The board could not sell tickets for concerts in Smith Memorial Hall. This restriction necessitated careful wording of the first mailings for officially the orchestra did not exist.
Over 300 members resulted from the first subscription drive, and individual contributors filled Smith Memorial Hall for the first concert, which took place on October 20, 1960. Twenty business firms bought advertising space in the program brochures, which contained the list of all contributors who had helped make that performance possible. In addition to the usual concert information such as listing the players by instrument, they included program notes prepared by Scott Goldthwaite. Urbana Senior High School students generously ushered for the concert.
The program included “A Roman Carnival” by Hector Berlioz. This was followed by Beethoven’s "Emperor" Piano Concerto, performed by Theodore Lettvin. Lettvin had gained international honor following an extensive European tour, and Goodman was fortunate to engage him for this opening concert. After intermission, there were two nocturnes, "Clouds" and "Festivals," by Claude Debussy. The program ended with Igor Stravinsky’s suite from the ballet, "The Firebird."
For the second concert, an all Tchaikovsky program held on April 20, 1961. Goodman invited as guest soloist Mischa Mischakoff, former concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, who performed the composer's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35. It was another evening of musical beauty which prompted one reviewer to write that “it must be a proud reality indeed for those who worked so hard to bring to the community an orchestra of which it can be justly proud.”
As the third season rolled around the board’s efforts were augmented by the support services of the Symphony Guild, which was organized in May 1962. The guild, under the direction of its first president, Mrs. James R. Edwards, staged a Viennese Ball at the Champaign Country Club. Mr. Goodman conducted a 20-piece orchestra. Proceeds from the first affair funded the first youth concert. High school students served as Ladies in Waiting and Aides.
Another popular innovation was a pre-concert lecture sponsored by the Education Committee of the guild. As new members were elected to the board, new ideas for marketing helped the membership grow.
The fourth season was marked by the orchestra's first Youth Concert which took place in the University Auditorium. This was a goal toward which the board had been working ever since the inception of the Symphony. An educational committee had been organized, consisting of representatives from the Symphony Board, the Symphony Guild and the music departments of area schools. The concert was directed specifically toward students in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades.
In 1969, the ninth season, the orchestra moved into the new Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The future of the symphony was enhanced to an immeasurable degree by the availability of the magnificent facilities at Krannert.
Throughout its history, the Symphony has established a number of musical landmarks, including the performances of commissioned works and the showcasing of internationally acclaimed guest artists. The opening concert of the 1991-1992 concert season, "Celebration!" featured only music which was composed and performed by African-Americans. A historic event, this performance was heard nationally over American Public Radio's "Performance Today" and has been honored with an ASCAP award for "Adventuresome Programming." The Symphony continues its long-standing tradition of collaboration with the University of Illinois Oratorio Society in the presentation of major choral works.
(From "Early History of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony" by W. J. Roberts.)
About the Orchestra
The CUSO is an orchestra that performs five to six subscription concerts and three to four Youth Concerts each season. In addition, each season begins with an outdoor "Symphony at Sunset" performance. The CUSO reaches more than 45,000 people each year through live performance and concert broadcasts.
One of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra's main goals is to provide high-quality music education for the youth of the Champaign-Urbana Metropolitan Area. Each year, the CUSO reaches approximately 15,000 youths through its Youth Concerts, In-School Concerts, and events such as the Instrument Petting Zoo.
In addition to the approximately sixty-five contracted players and the Music Director, the CUSO employs three administrative staff members: an Executive Director, Operations Manager, and Music Librarian. The orchestra also employs many area musicians as substitute or extra musicians on an as-needed basis.
Formed in 1962, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra Guild serves in a fundraising and support capacity to the CUSO. The Guild is the primary source of funding for the CUSO's educational programs.
The 2013-2014 Season will consist of five concerts:
- October 5, 2013: Classics I - A World of Color
- December 12, 2013: The CUSO Holiday Concert - A Season of Joy
- February 1, 2014: Classics II - Classic Gems
- March 8, 2014: Classics III - Inextinguishable
- April 25, 2014: Classics IV - A Russian Festival