Reflections on Sixty Years
As the Richmond Symphony Orchestra begins its 61st season it is well to reflect on what a journey it has been over the first six decades of its existence. Earlier attempts were made to create a symphony for this city, in 1899 and in 1920, but neither lasted more than a couple of years. In the 1940s a talented trumpet player named Ben Graham started a Richmond Civic Orchestra, playing mostly pop music and light classics. Then in 1956 two Earlham music professors, Manfred Blum and Leonard Holvik, decided that Richmond needed more; they worked out a merger of Graham’s group with the Earlham College student orchestra and established the current Richmond Symphony Orchestra. A single concert was held successfully that year in McGuire Hall at the High School. Manfred called upon his professional friends to play the principal positions, joined by other gifted amateurs from the community. The budget for the first full season was all of $300! Growth was steady, though, and by the early 1980s the Orchestra had become fully professional, drawing its musicians from the area’s great schools of music.
During its sixty-year history the RSO has been fortunate to have only three music directors. Manfred Blum retired in 1984, to be succeeded by Thomas Elefant who served the Orchestra until 1997. Guy Bordo took charge in that year and has just completed his 20th season as music director. Guy has been a towering success in so many ways. He is, first of all, a master conductor, leading the orchestra through nearly five centuries of classical and light classical repertoire. He has introduced us to new music as well as re-creating the old standards. He has consistently programmed music by American composers and by women. Guy is also a great orchestra “builder,” selecting the finest players and instilling in them a group cohesion that is quite remarkable. He has also proved a dedicated champion of the RSO in the community, building relationships, raising funds, and forging a long-term vision for the Orchestra. Twenty years and getting better every year!
Thanks, Guy—and thanks to all those who have made the Richmond Symphony into the excellent orchestra that it is today as it opens its seventh decade.