The Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra
Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra & Arctic Chamber Orchestra
A History . . .
In 1958, Jack Lind, an accomplished musician and native of Missoula, Montana, moved to Fairbanks from Anchorage where he had been involved in the school system. Appointed band director to what is now Lathrop High School, Lind soon became the first conductor of what would become the Fairbanks Symphony. Discovering that Fairbanks did not have an organized symphony orchestra, Lind made plans to establish one. In December of 1958 he arranged for a radio announcement inviting all musicians and townspeople interested in forming a community orchestra to an organizational meeting and rehearsal.
At that time Fairbanks only had a population of about 10,000 and was not exactly a cultural center. On January 13, 1959 a group of 35-40 musicians and others willing to give of their time gathered at Lathrop High School in the music room. The response was very encouraging and regular rehearsals were scheduled for Tuesday evenings – which still remains as the rehearsal night for the orchestra.
The orchestra was small and the varied degrees of musicianship were challenging, but within a few months the orchestra was ready to perform its first concert. On the afternoon of May 3, 1959 at Hunter School at 3:00 pm, the Fairbanks Symphony performed its first concert to a full house.
Lind soon left to pursue a Masters degree in music education at the University of Illinois, but the Fairbanks Symphony had been founded and performed its first concert.
Don Stagg became Lind’s successor and conducted the orchestra from March 1960 to April 1961. It was during Stagg’s term with the Symphony that the community orchestra was invited to join forces with the music department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
By the time Stagg left the Fairbanks area in 1961 the orchestra had grown to nearly fifty members and had been further rooted and grounded – which was a good thing because the next 8 years would prove to be the most unstable and restless the orchestra was to ever experience. Fewer concerts were given and the baton was passed to five new conductors.
Dr. Paul McIntyre conducted the orchestra from the fall of 1961 to the spring of 1964. Only a few concerts were performed during those years. Rollyn Morris conducted one semester and was followed by Rubin Decker who conducted during 1965-67. Duane Mikow led the orchestra from 1967-68 and finally Maurice Bonney held the baton during the 1968-69 season conducting only one concert – a very successful performance of Orff’s “Carmina Burana” with the University-Community Chorus.
The orchestra came very close to dying during those years. The group suffered from the continual change of conductors. Morale was poor and attendance was not good.
1969 brought a new conductor and new hope for the orchestra. Gordon Wright was hired as an Assistant Professor of Music by the University of Alaska and immediately sank roots in the community.
The new conductor soon established an unprecedented rapport with musicians and audiences. The Fairbanks Symphony was finally on firm ground and the Symphony Association was reorganized as a non-profit in order to nurture the growing community interest and participation in the orchestra.
Shortly after Wright’s arrival, the Arctic Chamber Orchestra was founded. The idea was bold, yet simple: A professional caliber touring orchestra performing complete concerts in the towns and villages of “bush” Alaska. The Arctic Chamber Orchestra embarked on its first tour in late September 1970 and has continued the tradition to this day. To date the Arctic Chamber Orchestra has performed in over 130 different towns and villages in Alaska and the Yukon. In addition, the orchestra has toured Switzerland, Scandinavia, The People’s Republic of China, Spain, and was Alaska’s Representative at the 1985 Pacific Rim Conference.
The Fairbanks Symphony is one of Alaska’s leading cultural institutions. The orchestra has grown from performing once or twice a year to doing a full season of concerts and recitals. Additionally, the orchestra has expanded its educational offerings over the years. Soon after the arrival of the Wright’s the Fairbanks Youth Symphony was also formed. The Youth Symphony has now become the Fairbanks Youth Orchestras – boasting three training orchestras for young musicians in Fairbanks. The North Star Strings began as a Family Orchestra and has developed into a group for adult musicians wishing to refurbish old skills. The Fairbanks Symphony was the host of the Annual String Chamber Music Symposium for over 25 years and has now collaborated with the UAF Music Department to present the Summer Music Academy. A concerto competition was established in 1990 and continues to this day providing our young musicians in Fairbanks the opportunity to compete for a chance to perform a solo work with the orchestra. Our Symphony in the Schools program puts symphony musicians in the public school music classes to aid teachers and the Kids2Concerts program provides complementary concert tickets to music students.
The Fairbanks Symphony has been committed to presenting the very best to our audiences and over the years has presented outstanding guest artists. A look back in the archives reveals many now world-renowned soloists at the beginnings of their careers. In October 2004, we were privileged to present violinist Midori in concert with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, performing both the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky concertos. As part of her new educational program, she held a series of master-classes and also performed with the Fairbanks Youth Symphony in a reading rehearsal of the Mendelssohn violin concerto.
The Fairbanks Symphony has received many honors and awards over the years, including ASCAP Awards, the Governor’s Award for the Arts and State and Local commendations. The Symphony has been commended by the State Arts Council for its fiscal responsibility and the late Ralph Black of the American Symphony Orchestra League once commended the Symphony for getting the “biggest bang for the buck”.
Our current conductor, Dr. Eduard Zilberkant, appointed for the 2000-01concert season, has carried the orchestra to new musical heights. With big ideas and great enthusiasm he inspires the orchestra to reach new levels of excellence. Under his leadership the orchestra has toured in Alaska, Canada, the continental United States and Europe. In addition, in 2004 the Fairbanks Symphony recorded Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 2 with Greek pianist Lambis Vassiliadis with Maestro Zilberkant conducting. During the 50th anniversary celebration of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Zilberkant and the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra were invited by the Greek Government to tour Greece with highly successful concerts at music festivals in Corfu and Samos.