History

OKLAHOMA PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY, INC. 

 

 

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra continues a nearly ninety-five year tradition of orchestral music in Oklahoma City. This rich history includes appearances by the world’s leading artists, international radio and television broadcasts, recordings, and numerous tours. The Philharmonic offers a variety of services to central Oklahoma, including Classics, Pops, Family, and Youth Concerts, and it provides orchestral services to Oklahoma City Ballet and Canterbury Voices. The Philharmonic also participates in many special programs throughout each season, including concerts in more distant Oklahoma locations and in award-winning classroom music education programs.

The first Oklahoma City orchestra was formed as early as 1924, and then in 1937, the Oklahoma Federal Symphony Orchestra was founded with Ralph Rose conducting the inaugural season. Victor Alessandro served as Music Director for the newly named Oklahoma City Symphony from 1939 until 1951 when he was succeeded by Guy Fraser Harrison who held the position until 1973. During the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the Symphony became internationally renowned for its regular series of weekly broadcasts over the Mutual Radio Network in the U. S. and Canada, and through the Voice of America. Successive Music Directors are Ray Luke (1973-74), Ainslee Cox (1974-1978), and Luis Herrera de la Fuente (1978- 1988), who presided over the renamed Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra until its closing in 1988. Maestro Joel Levine founded the Oklahoma City Philharmonic in 1988 and served as music director for 29 seasons, the longest tenure of any Oklahoma City music director. Alexander Mickelthwate is the Philharmonic’s second music director, beginning his time on the podium with the 2018-19 season.

Maestro Joel Levine came to Oklahoma City first as music director of Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma in 1976. He was named Associate Conductor of the Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra in 1979, and upon the closing of that orchestra in 1988, he was successful in his effort to found a new orchestra, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. The Philharmonic has continued its tradition of bringing the world’s leading music artists to Oklahoma City to perform with the orchestra. Artists have included soprano Renee Fleming; cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinists Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, and Pinchas Zukerman; pianists Van Cliburn, André Watts, Richard Goode, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Alicia De Laroccha and John Browning; flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and Sir James Galway; and percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Pops Series performers have included Pink Martini, Henry Mancini, Bobby McFerrin, Marvin Hamlisch, Sandi Patty, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Mannheim Steamroller, Emmy Lou Harris, Ray Charles, Roberta Flack and Glen Campbell. Special concerts have featured performances with Olivia Newton-John, Ben Folds and the bands ELO and The Moody Blues.

Maestro Mickelthwate arrives in Oklahoma City from twelve seasons as the music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. His work there included innovative programming and performances, including regular collaboration with Canada’s First Nations populations, as well as a performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall. In North America he has guest conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Houston Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Saint Luke's, Milwaukee Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony, as well as the orchestras of Hamburg, Germany, BBC London, Stuttgart Radio, Royal Scottish and Sao Paulo. A native of Frankfurt, Germany, he has held positions with the LA Philharmonic and Atlanta Symphony.

The Inasmuch Foundation Classics Series of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic consists of eight Saturday evening concerts presented from September through May. The repertoire reflects a well-balanced blend of all periods and styles. The Chickasaw Nation Pops Series consists of six pairs of Friday and Saturday evening performances presented from November through April. Concerts showcase celebrities from the entertainment industry, local talent, and the orchestra itself. The Discovery Series of Sunday afternoon concerts are designed to educate and entertain the entire family. In addition, Youth Concerts are performed in the Civic Center Music Hall to more than 17,000 elementary grade students from public and private schools in the Oklahoma City rural, suburban school districts, and various counties as far away as the Kansas border and the Red River.

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic also performs concerts in communities outside of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Additionally, special event performances are a part of each concert season, which include outdoor concerts, benefit concerts, local public and private fee engagements, and performances at local and statewide celebrations. July 2007 saw the inaugural Red White & Boom Independence Day concert presented by The Inasmuch Foundation. The Philharmonic also collaborates regularly with Oklahoma City Ballet and Canterbury Voices, accompanying their presentations and supported by endowment funds.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, Philharmonic musicians donated their services to provide music for the internationally-televised prayer service. Subsequently, the Philharmonic, in association with Warner Reprise Records, released a benefit CD, nation-wide, containing music from the service. In reviewing the recording, the Boston Globe wrote, “The Oklahoma City Philharmonic excels on the Adagio from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (2nd Movement), along with Bach’s sweetly mournful Air and Ravel’s gentle Pavane for a Dead Princess.”

On October 30, 1995, the Philharmonic joined Michael Martin Murphey on the stage of the Civic Center Music Hall for the video taping of Austin City Limits’ PBS television special – A Sagebrush Symphony, featuring artists Hank Thompson, Herb Jeffries, Robert Mirabal, and the Sons of the San Joaquin. In celebration of La Boheme’s 100th anniversary, in 1996 the Philharmonic produced a fully-staged production featuring internationally known stage director and artists. On November 21, 1996 the Philharmonic taped the 1996 Kathie Lee Gifford Christmas special entitled Kathie Lee: Just In Time For Christmas for CBS, which aired nationwide on December 11, 1996. Guest performers included Amy Grant, The Manhattan Transfer, soprano Kathleen Battle, guitarist Christopher Parkening, and Oklahoma country and western singers Bryan White and Jeff Wood.

More recently, the Philharmonic was an integral part of the celebration of the State of Oklahoma’s Centennial in 2007. To kick-off the anniversary year, the Centennial Anthem, “Oklahoma Rising” was premiered at a gala concert event at Civic Center Music Hall and featured Oklahoma artists Sandy Patty and co-writers Jimmy Webb and Vince Gill. For the grand closing event at the Ford Center (now Chesapeake Arena), the Philharmonic served as the house orchestra performing with native greats including, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Kristin Chenoweth, the All American Rejects and Kelli O-Hara. In 2009 Oklahoma City hosted the US Conference of Mayors featuring as the closing event a once-in-a-lifetime performance of Oklahoma City’s own Flaming Lips with the OKC Philharmonic.

The Philharmonic is a fully-professional orchestra, employing its musicians on a per-service basis. Roughly 80% of the musicians also serve on the faculties in the music schools of Oklahoma City’s many area colleges and universities or in the public school systems. As a result, the Philharmonic and these schools are able to attract high quality performers and educators who become valued members of our community and who are committed to the future of our city and the education of our children.

The Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra has earned a reputation as one of the most successful regional orchestras in the nation. The orchestra continues to provide a wide range of concerts while maintaining balanced operating budgets each year. The Philharmonic has received national recognition from both the League of American Orchestras and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as state recognition from the Oklahoma Association of Symphony Orchestras. In 2012 the Philharmonic was recognized for its strong commitment to education with a Governors Arts Award.

The Philharmonic’s Board of Directors is committed to maintaining endowment resources to support and expand its core objectives: to attract and retain top musical talent; to enhance and expand its education programming; to broaden its audience base; and to ensure continued collaboration with Oklahoma City Ballet and Canterbury Voices. The most recent campaign exceeded its goal of $9 million, and major gift work continues, specifically to endow The Founders Podium in recognition of Joel Levine and other key leaders who helped found the Philharmonic. Today, total endowment holdings are valued over $16 million.

The Philharmonic is proud to be the cultural flagship of Oklahoma City, providing the best in professional orchestral music for its community and its state. With the support of a committed board of directors, talented musicians, a host of invaluable volunteers, a highly trained staff, and a dedicated and appreciative audience, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic embraces all the elements necessary to ensure a bright and secure future.

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