We make great music to enrich and inspire our region.
To be the spark that ignites a love of music and sense of pride in every person in our region.
The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra has grown tremendously from when it started in 1939 as a partnership with local chemical plants in Charleston, WV.
On September 19, 1939, 55 musicians gathered for their first rehearsal as the Charleston Civic Orchestra. Under the direction of William R. Wiant, their first concert was given at Charleston ‘s Municipal Auditorium on November 14, 1939 . During Wiant’s years as conductor, the orchestra gave its first children’s concerts, pops concerts, and first performances of opera and ballet. The orchestra was incorporated and an Executive Board and Women’s Committee were formed to support its efforts.
When conductor William R. Wiant left Charleston for military service in the fall of 1942, Antonio Modarelli, conductor of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, was called upon to become the new conductor. Modarelli retained this dual conductorship for five years before moving to Charleston on a full-time basis. Prior to coming to Wheeling in 1937, Modarelli had led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for seven years.
In spite of the hardships of the war years, the orchestra managed to grow, eventually instituting a series of double concerts at the Shrine Mosque. In a unique partnership, the orchestra and local chemical plants joined forces to bring musicians to Charleston . The industries, particularly Union Carbide, made an effort to search for qualified applicants who were also musically talented. This cooperative effort eventually placed over 40 musicians from local industry in the orchestra. In 1943, the Charleston Civic Orchestra was re-named the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.
The Symphony’s first General Manager, Helen Thompson, began her duties in 1943. Mrs. Thompson also helped found the American Symphony Orchestra League, the professional service organization for symphony orchestras in the United States , and later served as that organization’s first Executive Director.
After Antonio Modarelli’s untimely death in 1954, Geoffrey Hobday became conductor. His conductorship was marked by an award from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University that funded a guest appearance by composer Stanley Wolfe conducting his Third Symphony. Donald Voorhees, conductor of television’s Bell Telephone Hour, also appeared as guest conductor. Hobday was succeeded by Charles Gabor, whose tenure lasted only one season (1964-65). He was replaced by Charles Schiff, who led the orchestra from 1965 to 1977. Under Schiff the orchestra became more cosmopolitan in scope, booking nationally recognized guest artists on a regular basis and presenting more challenging orchestral works than in the past. An expansion of the children’s concerts eventually led to the first set of quadruple Young People’s Concerts being performed in 1968, a tradition which continues to this day.
The next conductor, Ron Dishinger, continued the development of the orchestra’s education program through an expanded Student Enrichment Program in the elementary schools. Dishinger served as conductor from 1977 to 1979.
Sidney Rothstein, Music Director from 1980 to 1984, began a period of artistic growth that continued throughout the 1980s. In his first season, Rothstein greatly expanded the orchestra’s schedule and performed the first Super Pops concert at the Charleston Civic Center . The following season he formed the orchestra’s first resident string quartet and the first “Symphony Sunday” was presented.
With the appointment of Thomas Conlin as Artistic Director & Conductor in 1984, a new era began for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. The season expanded in size to 8, then 9, then eventually to 12 concerts including pops. Touring and run-out concerts around the state were also greatly increased. In recognition of its new status as a true regional organization, in 1988, the name of the orchestra was changed to the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
During the 1989-90 season, the orchestra celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The highlight of the year-long observances was a five-concert tour culminating in a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC on October 29, 1989 . Included in the program was a new piano concerto by composer Tomas Svoboda commissioned by the West Virginia Symphony in celebration of the occasion. Throughout his tenure, Maestro Conlin collaborated with world-renowned guest artists, including Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Alicia de Larrocha, James Galway, Marilyn Horne, Kathleen Battle and Yo-Yo Ma. Other achievements under Maestro Conlin include the founding of the Symphony Chorus, the establishment of a summer festival at Snowshoe, and the launch of a subscription pops series.
In December of 1999, Thomas Conlin announced his intention to step down from the WVSO podium in 2001, concluding an extraordinary 17-year tenure. After an extensive search process that attracted almost 200 applications from around the world, the WVSO named Grant Cooper as Artistic Director & Conductor of the WVSO in March 2001. Upon the selection of Grant Cooper as his successor, Thomas Conlin accepted the title of Conductor Laureate, in recognition of his extensive accomplishments with the WVSO.
The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra held its Inaugural Concert for the Maier Foundation Performance Hall, part of the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, on July 15, 2003. The new hall offers world-class acoustics, excellent sight lines, and improved amenities for artists and audiences alike.
Recent WVSO seasons have included collaborations with such world-renowned artists as violinist Midori, soprano Deborah Voigt, pianist Andre Watts, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Concert repertoire has included such challenging works as Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Under the leadership of Artistic Director & Conductor Grant Cooper, the WVSO has risen to a new level of excellence and has been hailed for exciting, dramatic concerts. In addition to its Charleston series of six symphonic and four pops concerts, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra tours the state each year and has recently presented concerts in Beckley, Elkins, Fairmont, Martinsburg, Lewisburg, Hurricane, Monroe County, Parkersburg, and other West Virginia communities.
The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra maintains a significant commitment to music education by supporting education programs in Kanawha County Schools, bringing Young People’s Concerts to thousands of West Virginia elementary school students annually, and providing support to the West Virginia Youth Symphony. With the assistance of the Segal & Davis Family Foundation, the WVSO has also issued a series of educational CD-ROMs, designed to integrate the Young People’s Concert experience into the regular school curriculum. This education initiative has drawn nationwide attention.