One of Rochester's longest-running major cultural institutions, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, is about the celebrate its 100th season, starting with concerts this upcoming weekend.
The symphony, like so many other features of this community, was founded and initially funded by Drs. Charlie and Will Mayo. The Mayo brothers recognized that in order to attract the top physicians and scientists to this outpost on the prairie, it would help to have a first-class orchestra.
The first concert of what was called the Philharmonia of Rochester took place at 4 p.m. on New Year's Day 1920, in the armory (now Castle Community). As the deep winter twilight enveloped the holiday, a new era in Rochester's cultural scene was born.
Shortly after that concert, Drs. Will and Charlie and their wives set sail for a trip to South America. But what they had set in motion with that first symphony concert has continued, through good times and bad, to provide enrichment to local audiences.
The orchestra was taken under the wing of the city's music department in 1936, and stayed there for 60 years. Then, in 1996, the orchestra left city funding behind and went independent.
Somehow, the symphony organization has been able to keep raising sufficient funds to operate not only an orchestra, but a high-quality orchestra. Musicians are not only from Rochester, but commute from the Twin Cities and throughout southeastern Minnesota to play under conductor Jere Lantz, who later this season marks 40 years with the orchestra.
Along the way, the orchestra has no doubt fulfilled the original mission of helping to attract talented people to Rochester, and convincing them to stay here.
The first concerts this weekend will feature two pieces of music played at that first performance on Jan. 1, 1920: "Overture to Phedre" by Jules Massenet, and "Last Spring" by Edvard Grieg. Also on the program are Aaron Copland's timeless music for "Our Town," a commissioned piece, "The Beauty That Remains," by Minnesota composer Shelly Hanson; and other selections that connect the symphony to its history.
Throughout the coming season, the orchestra will reflect, musically, on Rochester and the orchestra's connection to its hometown.
We trust it will be a season to remember for another 100 years.
If you go
The Rochester Symphony Orchestra's season-opening concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Lourdes High School. Tickets are $30 and $20 for adults, $5 for youth. Get them at 286-8742.