The Binghamton Philharmonic will celebrate its 60th anniversary during the 2015-2016 season. Fritz Wallenberg, his wife Marianne and local musicians organized in 1949 as a chamber orchestra, meeting at the Jewish community Center. Maestro Wallenberg was an engineer who conducted and played the cello and Marianne played the violin. The Binghamton Symphony emerged through performing the great classical and large choral works and later added one Pops concert per season. Performances were held at West Junior High School and occasionally at SUNY Binghamton West Gym. The “Symphonette” was formed as a chamber orchestra from within the larger group, and it performed in other venues in the area. Initially, rehearsals were held weekly, with none of the musicians receiving payment. Gradually, as the budget grew, musicians were compensated.
The Binghamton Symphony Orchestra moved to the Forum Theater (the former Capri movie theater) in 1975. Maestro Wallenberg retired from the podium in 1976. In the mid 1970s, the musicians voted to unionize and were then represented by Binghamton Local 380 of the American Federation of Musicians. A new rehearsal format was instituted, and following an audition season, David Loebel was chosen as the next conductor. In 1982, after a short tenure, Mr. Loebel resigned, and the Board of Directors chose not to conduct a search season. The Board appointed John Covelli Music Director. The orchestra went on strike in the early 80’s over issues with working conditions and some concerts that season had to be cancelled. The Philharmonic and the Union resolved the issues and the orchestra successfully finished the season.
Through the years, the orchestra continued to grow by adding pairs of concerts, playing six classical series a year, and instituting the Holiday Festival of Music at the Arena. Three executive directors in particular stood out from among many for promoting this growth: Nancy Marshall; Lana Rouff, and Stephen Wilson.
In 1996, the Binghamton Symphony merged with the BC Pops Orchestra to become the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra. The Philharmonic began to call the Anderson Center at Binghamton University its new performance home. In 2002 Mr. Covelli retired and a search took place for the next Music Director. José-Luis Novo was appointed Music Director from a series of strong candidates. Maestro Novo has become known for his excellent musicianship and has consistently raised the caliber of the orchestra.
Today the Philharmonic promotes itself as one of the oldest professional performing arts organizations in Broome County and it is the largest employer of professional musicians in the Southern Tier region. Its 71 musicians hold and have won positions in many other orchestras, and come from as far away as Pittsburgh, New York City and Cincinnati to play in Binghamton. Many musicians are as close as the City of Binghamton. Our musicians give outreach programs in the schools and perform as chamber ensembles in concerts and at various Philharmonic functions within the community.
As the Philharmonic Mission Statement sets forth, the orchestra continues to bring live classical music by “artists of incomparable talent” to all through “innovative, engaging and affordable programming” both inside the concert hall and beyond.