FORT WORTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
FORT WORTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. When the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) gave its first performance to a crowd of 4,000 on December 11, 1925, at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, it was conducted by its founder and first director, Brooks Morris. At that time, the FWSO was called simply the Fort Worth Orchestra.
While the FWSO has performed consistently throughout Texas and the world and participated in many notable events, World War II interrupted its work from 1943 to 1957. In 1957 the Fort Worth Symphony League was founded to raise funds for and promote the educational programs of the nascent FWSO. With the help of founder Brooks Morris, the symphony was reorganized, and Texas Christian University fine arts dean Dr. Robert Hull became conductor. The next fifteen years were dedicated to increasing the number of FWSO performances beyond one per month. Maestro Rudolf Kruger of the Fort Worth Opera and TCU music professor Ralph R. Guenther served as conductors from 1963 to 1965. From 1965 to 1971 Ezra Rachlin was conductor.
It was not until conductor John Giordano took over as director in 1972 that the “Texas Little Symphony” began to transform itself into a fully professional ensemble, capable of recruiting nationally-renowned musicians. The FWSO began its “Pops” series in 1974, involving such notable participants as Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. In 1980 the organization’s chamber orchestra debuted at Carnegie Hall, where it was one of only six such ensembles in the world invited to perform. In 1981 a “David” Stradivarius violin—one of two Stradivarius violins on indefinite loan to the FWSO—was acquired; both are still used during performances. The creation of the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra in 1983 gave the FWSO a full-time core of thirty-five musicians and allowed the FWSO to expand its event offerings.
The FWSO has completed international tours of Mexico, the People’s Republic of China, and Spain. Its 1983 tour of China marked the first time that an American chamber orchestra had played in that nation. The tour led to the FWSO’s first recording, East Meets West, released in 1984. In 1994 the orchestra joined with world-renowned Texas pianist Van Cliburn to play before a crowd of 45,000 to dedicate The Ballpark in Arlington. Later that year the FWSO joined Luciano Pavarotti at the Tarrant County Convention Center Arena, where they performed before 14,000 people. That year FWSO was also host orchestra for the Tokyo International Music Competition.
John Giordano directed the FWSO until 2000 when it recruited internationally-known conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who won the Seaver/NEA Conductors Award in 2002. Ann Koonsman, president in 2008, also served as the FWSO’s Executive Director from 1980–2004. In 1999 Governor George W. Bush named Koonsman that year’s Yellow Rose of Texas, a distinction reserved for the state’s outstanding women.
Since 1984 the FWSO has produced more than twenty compact discs, including the 1999 Western Jubilee Recording Company release A Prairie Portrait, which won the Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Traditional Western Album in 2000. The FWSO has also produced six commissioned works, including Violin Concerto by Kevin Puts, the symphony’s inaugural Composer-in-Residence. The worldwide debut of this 2007 work took place at the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
Opened in 1998, the Bass Performance Hall is now the main venue for the FWSO, which presents over 200 performances annually to more than 250,000 listeners. In addition to its schedule at Bass Hall, the FWSO performs in other cities throughout Texas. In addition the FWSO broadcasts its performances regularly over the radio.
The FWSO also provides educational opportunities for the public. Most notable is its partnership with the Van Cliburn Foundation, which, since 1962, has held a quadrennial, internationally-recognized piano competition for which the FWSO provides orchestral support. The FWSO presents a series of summer Concerts in the Garden. Begun in 1990, the annual concerts are held in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens, providing classical music to the public free of charge. Additionally, the FWSO performs dozens of educational concerts throughout the year to area schoolchildren. The orchestra’s appearance at Carnegie Hall in 2008 marked the first time the entire symphony orchestra had performed at that prestigious venue. In 2011 Miguel Harth-Bedoya still conducted the orchestra, which consisted of approximately seventy-five musicians. Andrés Franco was associate conductor, and Ron Spigelman served as Pops conductor. Amy Adkins served as president of the FWSO.
Trish Ciaravino, Marketing Director for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, interview by Alexander Pope, March 22, 2007. Norwood Dixon, Connections & Serendipity: The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra 1925-1986 (Fort Worth: Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association, 1986). Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 11, 2000. Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (http://www.fwsymphony.org/), accessed September 29, 2011. Van Cliburn Foundation (http://www.cliburn.org/index.php), accessed September 29, 2011.