At 4 o'clock on New Year's Day 1920, in the armory building in downtown Rochester, the newly formed Philharmonia of Rochester performed its first concert.

"It shows that on New Year's Day 1920, people wanted something to celebrate," said Jere Lantz, who has been conductor of what is now the Rochester Symphony Orchestra for the past 40 years.  

Among the pieces of music performed at that first concert was Edvard Grieg's "The Last Spring," which the symphony will reprise when it opens the 100th anniversary season with concerts Oct. 12 and 13.

Also on the program is Massenet's "Overture to Phedre," which the orchestra has never played again after that first concert in 1920.

"We're not duplicating the entire concert," Lantz said. "There's stuff on there that's hard to find anymore, and there's stuff people don't want to hear anymore."

The October concerts open a season that frequently looks back at the orchestra's history, and ultimately sets a course for the future.

There had been orchestra and band concerts in Rochester before 1920. But a permanent classical music ensemble was launched in 1919 largely under the auspices of Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo. 

"They decided that to attract top-notch medical personnel to Rochester, they needed an orchestra," Lantz said.

Med City match

"Someone once told me that any great city has a great orchestra," said Ardell Brede, former Rochester mayor. "And I think we have that."

In 1936, the orchestra became part of Rochester Civic Music, the city's music department. For the next 60 years, the orchestra received city funding, which helped attract musicians from the region and the Twin Cities to perform on the stage of Mayo Civic Auditorium. The auditorium had also been a gift to the city from the Mayos.

"When I was president of Civic Music, I went to all of their concerts," Brede said. "Some of them I liked, some I didn't, but that's music."

In the mid-'90s, orchestra supporters felt that Civic Music was spreading its budget too thin by also funding other types of music. Ultimately, the dispute caused the orchestra to break away from the city. Starting in 1995, the orchestra became an independent non-profit organization, and has managed to survive, through good times and bad, since then.

"I know they've had their difficult times, but I think it's important that they're here and and that it's quality, which they are," Brede said.

"A symphony orchestra is a reflection of what are the concerns and interests of a community," Lantz said.

Season preview

A look at the orchestra's 2019-2020 100th anniversary season:

-- "A Century Together," 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 2 p.m. Oct. 13, Lourdes High School. The concert will feature a video of scenes from Rochester's history, accompanied by Copland's music for "Our Town," as well as "Sing: A Song for Rochester," by Statecraft Rochester, directed by Torres Hodges.

-- "1919," 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall. The program features music written in 1919, including Elgar's Cello Concerto, with Rochester native Joseph Kuipers as guest artist.

-- "Messiah," 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2 p.m. Dec. 8, Lourdes High School. This is the first time since 2011 that the orchestra and chorale have performed Handel's holiday-season classic.

-- "Century of Cinema," 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, 2 p.m. Feb. 23, Lourdes High School. Movies, of course, were still silent in 1920, but the orchestra will poll the community for favorite movie themes of the past 100 years to be performed at these concerts.

-- "Cheers to 40 Years," 7:30 p.m. March 14, Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall. A celebration of Lantz's 40 years as conductor of the orchestra, his favorite symphony, Brahms's Symphony No. 2, and Wagner's "Meistersinger Overture," the first piece Lantz, who was in graduate school at the time, ever conducted.

-- "The Spirit of Us," 7:30 p.m. April 25, and 2 p.m. April 26, Lourdes High School.  Composer Ike Sturm has been commissioned to write a piece of music for this concert, which will conclude with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

Season and individual concert tickets are available at rochestersymphony.organd 507-286-8742, as well as from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at the symphony office, 1530 Greenview Drive SW.