Woodstock Symphony Orchestra
This season, 2022-2023, is the forty-third season of the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra, the outgrowth of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, officially re-named in 2018. In 1980 this orchestra was born as the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra.
The idea for the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra came from three local musicians, Judy Leopold, Ellen Ohm and Jeannette Ellis, who thought that an arts community like Woodstock could foster a small orchestra. They contacted musicians they knew and put together a small group which held its first rehearsal on January 27, 1980 — not
coincidentally the 224th anniversary of the birth of Mozart. Melissa Sweet, the flutist for the new orchestra, brought in her
husband Al not only to play second flute but to be the manager of the orchestra as well, a task well-suited to his IBM
The orchestra’s first music director and conductor was Henry Bloch, with the late Kurt Grishman serving as assistant conductor (as well as playing in the violin section). The new orchestra’s first complete season was 1980-81. Within a few years the WCO was performing five concerts a season in local churches, most often St. John’s in West Hurley. The repertoire grew to include major symphonies of Mozart and Haydn, as well as works for orchestra and chorus, often with
the Woodstock-based Ars Choralis, (initially reconstituted as the Woodstock Chamber Chorus). Around this time the orchestra became sufficiently successful to pay the musicians rather than asking them to volunteer their services.
From the early 1990s to 2005 the orchestra flourished under the direction of a new conductor, prize-winning cellist andclassical guitarist, the late Luis Garcia-Renart (1936-2020), who also taught at both Bard and Vassar and worked with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Under Garcia-Renart’s direction the orchestra built on its tradition of premiering new music by local composers with works by Joan Tower, Kyle Gann, Benjamin Boretz, Richard Teitelbaum, Jay Ungar, and Peter Schickele, among others. During this time the orchestra also expanded its venues to include the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, Holy Cross Church in Kingston, and Olin Hall at Bard College.
After Garcia-Renart’s retirement from conducting in 2005 the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra held a conductor search season, screening candidates from around the country, and even some from outside the U.S.A. David Leighton was selected; his experience with vocal and choral music particularly enhanced the WCO resulting in several concert-version opera performances, and utilization of the fine Kingston High School chorus. The new concert venue of Pointe of Praise in Kingston was added to the orchestra’s venues.
2009 brought the retirement, after thirty years of service, of the late Al Sweet from the position of Executive Director. That job was filled over the next few years by Natalie Robohm, Maria Todaro, and since 2012, Dana White-Marks. The orchestra at this time also began performing at the newly refurbished Woodstock Playhouse (fulfilling one of Al Sweet’s dreams).
The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra’s next conductor, Nathan Madsen, was chosen through another search during the 2011-12 season. During his term the orchestra began performing in Quimby Theater at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge, developing an audience further afield from its Woodstock roots. After Madsen’s resignation near the end of the 2015-16 season the orchestra launched another conductor search, occupying the 2016-17 season and chose as the orchestra’s fifth music director Jonathan Handman.
In his first seasons, Handman drew on some of the orchestra’s traditions and also brought new ideas to the orchestra
like a bluegrass-orchestral fusion and the continuing “Woodstock & Beyond” concerto competition. Handman resigned his position with the WSO at the end of the 2021-2022 season, having helped the WSO make it through two pandemic-fraught years of altered seasons (whether or not to present a concert, which instruments to include, vaccine & masking policy, etc.). The WSO wishes Jon continued success in his career and appreciates all he gave to the WSO.
Once again, in 2022-2023 the WSO presents a Conductor Search season, having lined up four talented, experienced musicians vying to become the next Music Director of the orchestra. Each concert will showcase their talents in conducting and programming with the common ingredient throughout the season of a Beethoven symphony in each concert and the absence of concerto soloists. On Sept. 24 William Stephens conducts, Nov. 5: Carolyn Lechuzza
Aquallo, Jan. 21: Adam Fontana, and concluding the season on May 13: Mina Kim. The candidates will be assessed by a Conductor Search committee and through reactions from the orchestra’s players.
Dana White-Marks, violist, string teacher and conductor, continues to serve as the Executive Director of the WSO. Her success with the orchestra includes navigating the challenges posed by the pandemic, attracting and maintaining a roster of high caliber players, and recently her work in producing this Conductor Search season. A reminder here of the WSO’s Grandiose Raffle, begun a few seasons ago and a fundraiser we need to complete! Her efforts were part of what led to the Chamber Orchestra becoming a Symphony Orchestra.
Of course in the spring of 2020 the WSO, like virtually all performing arts organizations, was forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to cancel the remainder of its season. We thought if the safety situation improved a great deal we would be able to present a regular season in 2020-21; that proved not to be the case. However, we offered our audiences 3 virtual concerts on our YouTube channel. When it came time to record the last of these concerts, in May of 2021, we were
allowed to have a live audience. We thought a return of the full orchestra and a regular season would be possible in fall of 2021 but, operating with an abundance of caution (and we do have a doctor on our board of directors!), we offered a reduced series of concerts for that season. This 2022-23 we expect to proceed as planned with all 4 concerts.
You can keep up with what the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra is doing at: woodstocksymphony.org and follow us on Facebook too. We expect our “Woodstock And Beyond” Concerto Competition for young players from our area will continue next season with our new music director.
President, Board of Directors