By Abigail Bearman, PR Coordinator at the Flint Institute of Music
The 2016-2017 Classical Concert season is one of celebration for the Flint Symphony Orchestra, as the cultural icon celebrates 100 years of history and music in the community. The festivities kick off with the season-opening concert on October 8, which features Edvard Grieg’s Last Spring, a piece performed at the very first concert in 1917. The 100th anniversary celebration will continue throughout the season, with the sharing of photos, memories and facts from the Orchestra’s archives.
The FSO traces its roots to that spring 1917 concert, a community performance that was part of Flint businessman and philanthropist J. Dallas Dort’s vision to bring the arts to prevalence in the area. Working alongside fellow community leaders, Dort’s movement took shape in the form of a symphony orchestra, a music school and a community choir.
The organization would take many forms over the years, calling upon the talents of local musicians, vocalists and educators as the foundation of what we now know as the Flint Institute of Music and the Flint Symphony Orchestra was laid. The original orchestra was comprised of local musicians, who gathered together to share their talents with the community. As the group continued to grow and take shape, it was influenced by the leadership of various directors and conductors who helped to create structure and direction. When William C. Byrd took the conductor’s baton in 1966, the Orchestra took the form we are familiar with today – no longer simply a group of community musicians, but a true professional orchestra that attracted musicians from beyond the Flint area.
Today, the Flint Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of Maestro Enrique Diemecke, who has been at the helm for the last 27 seasons. Known for his dynamic, energetic style, Diemecke has brought a high level of experience and passion to the organization. Just the fifth conductor in the Orchestra’s history, and the conductor with the longest tenure thus far, Diemecke has certainly left his mark on the organization.
“The presence of Maestro Diemecke has been a strong factor in attracting world-class musicians to join our orchestra, with many traveling across the country for the opportunity to play under his direction,” stated Cathy Prevett, FSO Administrative Director.
The Grammy-nominated conductor is also a renowned composer in his own right and widely considered to be an expert on the works of Austrian composer, Gustav Mahler. Each season’s programming has included a Mahler composition, which attracts fans of the composer from all over to enjoy Diemecke’s interpretation and insight. Traditional classic works, such as Mahler’s, are the heart and soul of the FSO’s programming, a characteristic that has stayed true from the organization’s roots.
“While times and tastes in popular music may change over the years, we’ve found that there is always room in our patrons’ hearts for the classical works,” shared Prevett. “Classical music is timeless, reaching across generations and touching young and old, alike.”
Diemecke isn’t the only Orchestra member with an impressive record of service – many of the musicians have played here for 20 years or more. The musicians come from all over the U.S. and Canada, coming together in the week before a concert to perfect the pieces and play as a cohesive unit. The result is a w quality of sound that makes the FSO comparable to orchestras in much larger cities. For the Orchestra members however, it’s not just about the music, though that is what attracted them here originally – it’s also about serving and sharing with the people of Flint. From performing at their free annual concert at Crossroads Village during the Music in the Parks series, to working together to collect diapers, wipes and other supplies to donate to families in need during the water crisis, the members of the FSO truly play and give from their hearts.
A long-standing pillar of the Flint community, the Orchestra takes a great deal of pride in its beloved city. The organization’s longevity and outstanding reputation make it unique among symphony orchestras, particularly when considering the rich, but challenging history the city of Flint has experienced. The celebration of the centennial milestone isn’t just a celebration for the FSO, but a celebration of a city that has lived through highs and lows and come through with its head held high.
As the FSO sets its sights on the next hundred years, its members look forward to continuing to touch the hearts and minds of its patrons through the beauty of classical music. Efforts are in place to create an endowment fund to ensure that the Orchestra will always have the financial support needed to bring music to the community for many, many years to come. The organization also plans to expand its programming and community outreach to introduce music to the next generations of symphony lovers. The FSO’s milestone is just part of the realization of J. Dallas Dort’s dream for community-based arts programming to thrive and grow in the heart of Flint.