THE HISTORY OF THE PHIL
Fort Wayne Philharmonic can trace its origin to the Verweire Symphony
Orchestra, founded in January 1924 by conductor John L. Verweire. Not
long after the founding, Verweire asked his orchestra of 63 musicians to
change its name to the Fort Wayne Symphony Orchestra. After 4 years,
Verweire resigned and the orchestra disbanded due to insufficient
financial support. After a short time, the orchestra was reorganized
with Emil Bouillet as conductor. Each musician was required to sell
tickets for the concerts, and banners were stretched across Calhoun
Street to advertise the concerts given at the Majestic Theater, the
Emboyd Theater, and the Shrine Auditorium. Financial difficulties again
forced the orchestra to disband. After some time, another meeting was
called at Central High School to reorganize the orchestra and elect a
new conductor, Gaston Bailhe.
As the orchestra grew, a new
vision developed. A board of directors was formed with Henry Simon as
President. The name of the orchestra was changed to the Fort Wayne Civic
Symphony Orchestra. This effort is viewed as the first attempt to
organize an orchestra of this nature in a city smaller than most cities
supporting an orchestra of its size.
The Civic Orchestra’s first
concert was held on Friday evening, February 24, 1928. History marked
the Civic Orchestra as the first permanent orchestra of its type in Fort
Wayne. Mayor William J. Hosey wrote in a letter to the president of the
orchestra, Walter E. Helmke: “This being a purely civil enterprise, it
should have the support of our entire community.”
early 1940s, there was a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction among
some leading orchestra players who felt the Fort Wayne Civic Orchestra
could improve with a better conductor. A strong voice was Agnes Nelson
who often acted as concertmaster of the Civic Orchestra and taught
violin at Concordia College. Nelson had moved from Duluth where their
orchestra had vastly improved under a more capable conductor. Nelson and
other musicians began talking to board members about engaging guest
conductors for the following season. There were many promises, but only
one guest conductor, Victor Kolar from the Detroit Symphony, was
apparently asked. At the Civic Symphony’s spring-board of directors
meeting, the 1944-45 concert season was announced with no guest
conductor. Sympathetic to the musicians’ position, several board members
resigned and left the meeting.
A group of orchestra members
circulated a petition asking the board for guest conductors during the
next season. When Bailhe learned of the petition, he fired some 20
orchestra members who had signed the petition. The morning paper
announced the cancellation of the concert for the following week due to
guest artist Nino Martini’s illness. The following day the paper carried
the true story.
A meeting was then called for those interested
in forming a new orchestra. The 25 people attending left the meeting
energized. About 50 people attended a fruitful second meeting the
following week. A steering committee was elected, and those in
attendance were asked to recruit members of the Philharmonic Society at
$2.00 a person, the fee to be applied to season tickets.
third meeting the following week, over 1,000 people had joined the
Society. They elected Carol Light president and Armond Gemmer business
manager. The Society’s goal was to be the best orchestra in a city of
Fort Wayne’s size. On June 13, 1944, the Philharmonic Society of Fort
Wayne, Inc. was incorporated.
The steering committee began their
search for a music director, asking the help of Arthur Judson of New
York, president of Columbia Concerts. Mr. Judson suggested they speak
with Hans Schweiger, who had recently moved to the United States from
Germany. Judson felt Fort Wayne’s German community would be a good fit
for both. Maestro Schweiger became Fort Wayne’s first full-time music
director and was contracted for $1,000 a month for the 1944-45 season.
inaugural concert was held at the newly refurbished Palace Theater on
October 18, 1944. The mood was festive, and the orchestra was
wonderfully received by the Fort Wayne community. “Hans Schweiger’s
readings reflected mature scholarship and gave proof of painstaking
care. The orchestra was on its mettle and played with spirit and
infectious enthusiasm,” wrote Walter A. Hansen, the News-Sentinel
critic. He also commented that Mr. Schweiger conducted the entire
program from memory.
The first season was an artistic success
thanks in part to such great artists as William Kapell. The first season
was composed of five subscription classical concerts, two pops
concerts, and one children’s concert.
Maestro Schweiger was a
musician of the highest quality. He brought out the best in his
musicians. Schweiger, a widower, met Mary Fitzpatrick Schields in Fort
Wayne. Not only was he loved by his audience, but he was loved by Mary,
whom he soon married.
For the community, a highlight of
Schweiger’s tenure was “The Children’s Crusades.” The concert showcased a
children’s chorus of 250 and an adult chorus of 150. Time Magazine
featured the event in the city notice section. In November of 1946, Good
Housekeeping Magazine featured Maestro Schweiger in an editorial. In
December of 1946, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was featured on National
Broadcasting Company’s series “Orchestras of the Nation.” Fort Wayne’s
orchestral dream had come true.
In order for the orchestra to have a
strong, broad base of community support, outstanding business and
industry leaders were recruited to serve on the board of the new Fort
Wayne Musical Society, Inc. Leaders such as Frank Bohn, President of the
Telephone Company; James Barrett, attorney; Frank Freimann, Vice
President of Magnavox; and Byron Sommers, President of Medical
Protective Company, were recruited. Freimann was elected President of
During the summer of 1944, the board realized the
need for a volunteer support group to assist the orchestra and its
board. Monica Agnew was asked to take on the project. She spent hours
talking to Fort Wayne women resulting in a large group willing to
support the new orchestra. Mrs. Irwin Deister was asked to become the
first President and assumed the lead in forming the new organization,
the Women’s Committee.
Financial support for the orchestra
increased dramatically, and the orchestra was able to enlarge its
program for 1945-46. The Philharmonic’s home was moved to the Shrine
Theater, then the Quimby Auditorium, with a 2,200-seat capacity.
the early days of the Philharmonic, many of the musicians were
imported, often from Chicago. This was expensive. Much of the extra
financial help came from Magnavox Vice President, Frank Freimann. Today
we have the Freimann String Quartet and the Freimann Concert Series,
thanks to Mr. Freimann’s generous endowment gift to the orchestra.
the 1947 Radio Retailing Yearbook, the Philharmonic was listed among 50
non-recording orchestras, and it was one of 13 with an asterisk beside
its name. A footnote accompanying its listing explained that an asterisk
before the name of an orchestra indicates especially high artistic
standing of both orchestra and conductor. The orchestras in Milwaukee,
Seattle, New Orleans, and Houston had no asterisks.
spring of 1948, Isaac Stern performed with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
That year Hans Schweiger ended his fourth season in Fort Wayne. He moved
on to be Music Director of the Kansas City Philharmonic, which was
quite an opportunity for the young conductor.
left a great legacy – one that we are grateful for today – an orchestra
the Fort Wayne community is extremely proud of. He died in October 2000.
Schweiger was succeeded in the summer of 1948 by Igor Buketoff. Mr.
Buketoff had been conducting opera in Paris and was a popular guest
conductor in the United States. Buketoff, who had received his B.S. and
M.S. degrees from the Juilliard School of Music, was the youngest
conductor of a permanent orchestra in the country.
In 1948, the
Fort Wayne Philharmonic was heard on an NBC coast-to-coast broadcast.
This broadcast was followed by a feature story about the orchestra and
its conductor in Newsweek magazine.
In 1949 a magazine booklet
called Public Opinion Quarterly, published by the Princeton University
Press, printed the results from a survey in which American youth were
asked if they would prefer moving to a large community. There were only
two cities in which the majority of young people said they preferred to
remain in their hometown. One was Fort Wayne. When the youngsters were
asked why they would rather stay in Fort Wayne, one of the first reasons
given was their excellent Philharmonic Orchestra as well as other
cultural advantages. This survey was used by Look magazine which ran a
feature story on Fort Wayne, “American’s Happiest Town,” singling out
the orchestra as being among the great contributors to this title.
all was not rosy for the Philharmonic. In 1949, the Excess Profits Tax
was repealed, cutting funds for the orchestra and causing a deficit to
accumulate. The city rallied dramatically to respond to the appeal to
save its prized organization. Manager Marshall Turkin and Music Director
Igor Buketoff spoke to many clubs and organizations in the city,
explaining the problem and the solution. The Women’s Committee added
projects to raise money and develop interest. A jackpot show was jointly
sponsored by the Junior League, radio station SKFG, the
Journal-Gazette, and a theater group. A group of local merchants offered
merchandise prizes worth over $22,000. The result was reported to be
The board of directors revised its budget,
cutting it from $100,000 to $55,000. Orchestra members had to be cut,
and funds were decreased for guest soloists. Buketoff was creative in
hiring guest artists and prevailed upon friends in New York City to
perform in Fort Wayne. Judging from local newspaper reviews, the
orchestra held its town. Some of the outstanding performing artists were
Nathan Milstein, Gyorgy Sanders, and Claudio Arrau.
Buketoff also attracted fine pops stars. An interesting example occurred
on April 15, 1952. Hoagy Carmichael dedicated his first performance of
“Take Your Time” to all the girls in Fort Wayne, and in September 1952, a
pops concert featured the very popular Benny Goodman.
crisis loomed for the Philharmonic at the end of the 1950 season ticket
campaign; only half of the season tickets at the Scottish Rite
Auditorium had been sold. The board of directors was gravely concerned
and considered canceling the season. Principal flute, Al Verweire,
suggested a door-to-door sales campaign by musicians. Every night
orchestra members took to the streets ringing doorbells. Marie Heiney,
violinist, canvassed her hometown of Huntington and wrote many articles
for her local newspaper.
The Fort Wayne musicians also wrote many
newspaper articles. The News-Sentinel published stories nearly every
day, often with pictures. Cliff Milnor also ran many stories in his
column. Igor Buketoff returned from his summer in New York to help.
Chorus members joined the effort. By the end of August, nearly all
season tickets were sold.
Mention must be made of Hugo
Gottesman, concertmaster emeritus of the Philharmonic. The Nazis had cut
off his successful career in Austria, and in 1953 Gottesman arrived in
Fort Wayne. Gottesman was a popular concertmaster and member of the
Philharmonic’s string quartet for fifteen years. His last concerto with
the orchestra, played in pain (he was soon to be diagnosed with cancer),
was felt to be his finest. Gottesman died on January 12, 1970.
continued to bring marvelous orchestral music to the community and to
feature outstanding world famous artists. His list included Marian
Anderson, contralto; William Warfield, baritone; Joe Iturbi, pianist;
John Browning, pianist; Isaac Stern, violinist; Philippe Entremont,
pianist; Van Cliburn, pianist; Andres Segovia, guitarist; and Eileen
Farrell, Metropolitan Opera Star.
On November 21, 1957, the Fort Wayne Musical Society, Inc. changed its name to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra, Inc.
Buketoff resigned in 1966 after 19 successful seasons leading the
Philharmonic. Buketoff’s innovations were many: establishing the
26-member Fort Wayne Sinfonietta, enabling performances in outlying
areas; organizing the Philharmonic Chorus; starting in-school string
quartet performances; starting a series of children’s concerts;
presenting the first youth concert; and establishing a Saturday Student
Series for young music lovers. During his tenure, the orchestra achieved
its first collective bargaining agreement between management and the
local Union #58. He was also a champion of American music.
a year of guest conductors, James Sample followed Maestro Buketoff as
Music Director of the orchestra from 1967 until 1970. Sample reactivated
the Philharmonic Chorus, inactive since 1961. He established the
woodwind quintet and increased the coffee concerts to eight. According
to a Journal Gazette article, he left Fort Wayne “on a less than
harmonious note.” Sample explained his departure as personal and due to
having musical disagreements.
Thomas Briccetti was music
director from 1970 until 1978, sharing his time first with the Cleveland
Institute of Music and then with the Omaha Symphony. He brought the
now-famous Eve Queler to Fort Wayne briefly as assistant conductor.
Briccetti had great talent and energy. He was also an accomplished
composer and received, among many honors, the Prix de Rome for
composition in 1958-59. He expanded the core of full-time musicians,
which was a huge step forward. Maestro Briccetti started the second
Indiana Chamber Orchestra that performed its own series. He established
family concerts and the Sundays at 8:00 series.
He also brought
fine soloists including Janos Starker, cellist; Arthur Fiedler,
conductor; Ruggiero Ricci, violinist; and Lorin Hollander, pianist.
Briccetti introduced Little Turtle Concerts for children 4 to 8 years
old and enlarged the in-school program to 52 schools in surrounding
The Philharmonic moved its full orchestra concerts
from the Scottish Rite Auditorium to the newly remodeled and redecorated
Embassy Theatre at the beginning of the 1975-76 season. Under the
leadership of Robert Goldstein, the community had saved the Embassy from
the wrecking ball. The opening concert was exciting, and the audience
was delighted with the acoustical improvement and beauty of the hall.
Briccetti resigned effective the end of the 1977 season, a season of
guest conductors auditioning for the music director position. Briccetti
became the full-time music director of the Omaha Symphony and then moved
to Italy as conductor of orchestras in Perugia and Bergamo, Italy until
his death on May 27, 1999.
After the year-long search, Ronald
Ondrejka, music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony for eleven years
and chairman of the conducting program at University of California at
Santa Barbara, was chosen to be the new music director of the Fort Wayne
Philharmonic. Maestro Ondrejka had previously been assistant conductor
of the Buffalo Philharmonic and associate conductor of both the
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh Symphonies. His first season in Fort Wayne was
In 1979, free pops concerts were started at the
Foellinger Theatre in Franke Park and at the Embassy Theater. Pauline
Cronin (Ware Silva) donated a Steinway piano to the Philharmonic that
was dedicated on November 7, 1979, at a concert featuring the
outstanding pianist Emmanuel Ax.
The Spectrum Series was created
in 1982 featuring the chamber orchestra. The series of eight concerts
was held at the Performing Arts Center (now the Arts United Center).
Also at the PAC were the Gallery Players in the upstairs open area; this
was the forerunner of the Freimann Series of small ensemble concerts.
of Ondrejka’s strong priorities was music education for young people.
On his watch, the Young People’s Concerts on school time were
established. The first concerts in the spring of 1979 featured the
winner of the young people’s competition, 16-year-old cellist, Jennifer
In October 1984, the Frank Freimann Charitable trust
donated one million dollars to the Philharmonic endowment fund. The
purpose was to develop staff, create the Freimann String Quartet, and
underwrite the Freimann Chamber Music Series. The Philharmonic’s quartet
was renamed the Freimann String Quartet, and the series was established
on October 9, 1985. Peter deVries, first violin; Lenelle Ross, second
violin; David Johnson, viola; and Samuel Smith, cello, made up the first
quartet. It was a superb, spirited ensemble.
In 1984, Ondrejka
brought former music director Thomas Briccetti back to Fort Wayne.
Briccetti conducted the world premier of his new orchestral suite.
Ondrejka continued the tradition of bringing world-class soloists to
play with the Philharmonic. A few of the artists here during his tenure
were Joshua Bell, violin; Rudolph Firkusny, piano; Margaret Hillis,
conductor; James Galway, flute; Harvey Pittel, saxophone; and Chet
Maestro Ondrejka announced his retirement on
March 19, 1992, effective at the end of the following season, his
fifteenth as music director of the Philharmonic. During his tenure,
Ondrejka had increased the number of full-time musicians to 42,
increased the Grand Concerts series to nine performances and the
Spectrum concerts to eight, and established the Freimann Chamber Series.
Ondrejka improved the quality of the orchestra under his leadership. He
espoused new music to the delight of the orchestra and education of the
audience. His final concert was April 30, 1993, a reprise of his first
concert on October 24, 1978.
After auditioning conductors during
the 1992-93 season, Edvard Tchivzhel was the unanimous choice of the
Philharmonic’s board of directors. In February of 1991, Edvard, his wife
Luba, and their son Arvid had defected to the United States after a
tour of the United States with the U.S.S.R. State Symphony Orchestra.
Tchivzhel was an associate conductor of the orchestra. Former Fort Wayne
Philharmonic principal flutist Kay Borkowski brought Tchivzhel to the
attention of the Philharmonic search committee. Borkowski had played
under Tchivzhel several times in South Carolina. He was ultimately
chosen as one of the 4 finalists. Edvard and Luba Tchivzhel became US
citizens in 1999.
Maestro Tchivzhel’s first concert of the 1993
season was a tribute to Tchaikovsky in honor of the 100th year of his
death. This concert was acknowledged by a standing ovation from an
enthusiastic audience. Violinist Eloise Guy who has played in the
Philharmonic for over 50 years said in a July 2004 interview, “The
opening concert was very exciting. I’ve never, in all those years, seen
the orchestra and the audience so excited.” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
reviewer David Devoe wrote, “Edvard Tchivzhel and the Fort Wayne
Philharmonic have ended their first season together in a blaze of
Under Maestro Tchivzhel, the orchestra made great
artistic strides. He attracted outstanding soloists to play with the
Philharmonic. Budget constraints limited the number of well-known
artists the orchestra could afford to bring to Fort Wayne, but he was
successful bringing in young talent, often prestigious competition
During his tenure, several programs were created by
Philharmonic president Christopher Guerin and his staff. “Hip Hop Pete,”
an anti drug abuse program for 5th and 6th graders, received national
acclaim. In 1996, the “Unplugged” series was started, featuring light
classical concerts focused on a younger, more casual audience.
announced his final season would be in 2007-08. A search for a new
music director was undertaken and the board appointed internationally
renowned violinist Jaime Laredo as Artistic Advisor. The position was
widely advertised, and more than 270 conductors from all over the world
applied for the position. The 10-member search committee made up of
board, musicians, staff and community narrowed the field to eight
finalists who conducted two concerts each in the 2008-09 Season – one
full orchestra and one chamber orchestra. Musicians and audience were
surveyed after each finalist’s appearance with the orchestra.
A new three-concert Family series was started in the 2008-09 Season.
only 200 people in the audience for the first performance at Auer
Performance Hall on the IPFW campus, the series quickly grew in
popularity and averaged over 500 per concert by the following season,
with some performances reaching 1,000 in attendance.
2009, the Philharmonic announced Andrew Constantine as the seventh music
director. Constantine was the Music Director Designate for the 2009-10
Season and assumed full-time duties in the 2010-11 Season.
Philharmonic’s endowment fund, established in 1966, has been an
important factor in the growth and stability of the orchestra. The Fort
Wayne Philharmonic was the smallest of the 60 orchestras nationwide to
receive a grant from the Ford Foundation. The foundation’s matching
grant offer was $250,000 to the organizations that could match their
money within 5 years.
The Frank Freimann Trust added $1 million
to the original fund in 1984. Helene Foellinger’s Foundation in 1989
provided a challenge grant to help raise another $2 million. The NEA
contributed $200,000 toward this campaign.
The Fort Wayne
Philharmonic is grateful to Quincy Baldwin for chairing the original
campaign, and to Allen Steere for his diligent work making sure the Ford
Foundation match was achieved. Leonard Goldstein and Eleanor Marine
have also chaired successful campaigns.
Currently the endowment
fund is valued at about $11 million, producing about $600,000 income for
the Philharmonic during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The endowment has
helped the Philharmonic support its core of 39 musicians.
increasing financial challenges, the Philharmonic administrative office
was moved to the Ginsburg Building on the IPFW campus. This move was
made possible by a very generous offer from Chancellor Michael Wartell
to house the office at no charge to the Philharmonic, except for the
cost of housekeeping and long distance telephone service. This move
helped the orchestra realize more than $50,000 in annual savings.
applaud and thank the following Philharmonic musicians for their
outstanding and continuing service to the orchestra and to the
community: Eloise Guy (53 years). Ernest Zala (57 years), Sam Gnagey (35
years), Joyce Gowens (35 years), Naida McDermid (32 years), Alan Severs
(32 years), Adrian Mann (32 years). Thanks also to Agnes Nelson for her
role in founding the Philharmonic and her many years of performance and
outstanding teaching in our community.
– Written by Anita Cast, July 2005, with recent additions by J.L. Nave, January 2012