Memphis Symphony Orchestra
The Memphis Symphony Orchestra was established in its present form in 1960 as an outgrowth of the Memphis Sinfonietta, a chamber group formed eight years earlier under the direction of cellist Vincent DeFrank, with support from the Memphis Orchestral Society and the Memphis Arts Council.
Classical orchestras had existed in Memphis earlier, notably the Memphis Symphony Society, which was established in 1939 by Burnet C. Tuthill, head of the music department at Southwestern College. That orchestra consisted largely of amateur musicians who offered four or five concerts each season for several years, but ceased to operate before the 1947-48 season.
Vincent DeFrank was the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's first director and served as its leader until 1983. A Ford Foundation grant received in 1963 helped the orchestra to expand its season and increase its audience base threefold. After DeFrank retired, he was replaced as musical director by Alan Balter, who arrived in 1984. In 1996, the orchestra lost its performing venue when the city of Memphis closed its concert hall in order to build a new city-owned performance venue, the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Construction of the Cannon Center was delayed, so the orchestra had no permanent home after 1996 until the Cannon Center opened in 2003. Balter retired in 1998 and was replaced by David Loebel, who directed the orchestra until 2010. In February 2010 Mei-Ann Chen was named music director beginning in the fall of 2010.
Musicians and programs
The Memphis Symphony has 36 full-time professional musicians.
The orchestra's members supplement the concert schedule and the orchestra's finances by providing contracted services that include mentoring of inner-city students, conducting corporate "leadership" programs, and offering performances in nontraditional venues. The orchestra's "Family Tunes & Tales" program offers free concerts for young children and their families at public libraries and Borders Books and Music stores. Kinderconcerts, offered in the schools for kindergarten through grade 2, send a pair of string musicians into a school to perform, demonstrate their instruments, play music games, and introduce basic musical concepts. MSO Ensemble Concerts are performances in schools for students in grades three through twelve, including strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. The Symphony also works with the Memphis City Schools on a collaborative program called "Music, Math, Science and Technology," in which school subjects such as weather, geography, and history are explored through music. Mentoring of middle school students at the Soulsville Charter School began in the 2007-2008 school year.
- Roy C. Brewer, Symphony Orchestras, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, December 25, 2009; last updated February 28, 2011; accessed June 28, 2011
- Mission & History, Memphis Symphony Orchestra website, accessed December 11, 2010
- Lela Tepavac (2010), Catherine Maciariello, ed., Fearless Journeys: Innovation in Five American Orchestras, New York City: League of American Orchestras, p. 27
- Joseph Horowitz, Why Memphis Matters to Every American Orchestra, Arts Journal blog, January 29, 2010
- Family Tunes & Tales, Memphis Symphony Orchestra website, accessed December 11, 2010
- Music for Schools, Memphis Symphony Orchestra website, accessed December 11, 2010
- Soulsville Mentoring, Memphis Symphony Orchestra website, accessed December 11, 2010
- Elvis Birthday Concert Tribute by Memphis Symphony Orchestra Returns!, Elvis Presley official website, December 2, 2010