The present Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra began in 1947 when the Central State Symphony Orchestra grew out of the late Peter Michelsen's music classes at the Central State Teacher's College, predecessor of UW-Stevens Point. The publicity for the symphonic group stated specifically that this was not a college function, but rather sponsored by a non-profit organization using college facilities. A group of local citizens, led by Lyle Jenkins (father of Judge Robert Jenkins) organized to sponsor a symphonic group that would be outside of the Central State College's sphere of influence or activity. The main reason for this interest was likely the popularity of the annual Christmas concert put on by the college. For this event Mr. Michelsen not only brought in string musicians and other players - he himself went to the woods and cut down the trees used as decoration for the program! This event, using the school chorus plus the orchestra attracted a sellout crowd for two nights during the Christmas season, sparking the idea of a continuing symphonic group. Support for this idea was also voiced by the musicians playing or in attendance at the Christmas extravaganza: Ed Bukolt, Dr. Robert Slater, and Wenzel Albrecht to name a few.
The fifty musicians of the Central State Symphony Orchestra residing in Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, Wausau, Marshfield, Clintonville, and New London presented the first concert on April 4, 1948. The program included When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day, Prelude to Der Meistersinger, Der Freichutz, Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, and An American Salute. The feature article in the Stevens Point Journal reported that approximately one thousand people attended the event, and the orchestra planned to give spring and fall concerts in the future. However, despite the efforts of the musicians and concerned citizens, there is little evidence that other concerts were held outside of the traditional Christmas Concert.
A benefit concert in 1953 by "a local girl made good," Shirlee Emmons, created new interest in a continuing orchestral organization. From this very modest start as a truly civic group, a local church organist was hired as director, with the first rehearsals held in the church. The orchestra then presented concerts in the Emerson School, storing large equipment under the stage.
The eighteen member orchestra became known as the Stevens Point Symphony. Two concerts were presented in the auditorium of Old Main on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to audiences numbering one hundred-fifty. By 1956, the orchestra had grown to thirty-five players and the audience numbered two hundred. Dr. Robert Slater was President of the Board of Directors from 1953 concert until 1970. During that time, few changes were made to the five to nine member Board. Meetings were conducted in members' homes. All of the work for the concerts save stage set-up was strictly on a volunteer basis. Two or three concerts were presented per year and support was drawn from a few business and individual contributions. The significant conductor during these formative years was Dr. Hugo Marple, Chairman of the Department of Music at the Wisconsin State University-Stevens Point. Change in the orchestra structure was necessary due to two factors occurring in 1969. The university had grown to the point of establishing an arts and music series. Additionally, Dr. Marple left the university, necessitating a search for a new music director.
The university experienced enormous growth in the 1970s. A College of Fine Arts was established and the faculty of the Department of Music served as section leaders of the orchestra. The influx of professional talent played a major role in the artistic development of the symphony during the 1980s. With the time being right for expansion, the orchestra enjoyed the vision and administrative skills of Donald E. Greene, Music Director/Conductor from 1975 to 1981. The symphony, now known as the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra, made its home in the new Sentry Theater in 1977. The ambiance of the theater had a positive effect on the way the public viewed the orchestra. Performances were expanded to two nights each, the budget was dramatically increased, and the Board of Directors was enlarged to include some of the best and most prominent executive talent in the central state area.
In 1981, the Board of Directors appointed Jon Borowicz as Music Director/Conductor and with this began an important developmental era of the orchestra, characterized by unprecedented artistic growth and administrative consolidation. The orchestra roster was stabilized at seventy-six musicians, the budget was gradually but substantially increased with each passing season, and was supported by the CWSO Guild membership of over one hundred. The orchestra's repertoire was expanded to include the great major orchestral works and many rising stars of national and international professional soloists became guest artists with it. The initial efforts of a small group of townspeople and students had, over a period of 40 years, grown into a fully-developed symphony orchestra with pride in its growing artistic reputation, with a solid supporting structure, and well-defined season of concerts.
Highlights of the 1990s decade include: soloists pianist Misha Dichter, bassist Edgar Meyer, Roberta Flack (fiftieth anniversary in 1998), violinist Gernot Winischhchofer, flutist Jim Walker, guest conductor/composer David Amram, and world premier works by Judith Lan Zaimont, Elizabeth Alexander and Ellen Taafe Zwilich. A biennial Young Artist Competition was established for exceptional high school musicians. Conductor/Music Director Eric Townell came to the orchestra in 1990. During this decade, the CWSO performed collaborative projects with the Monteverdi Master Chorale, the Wausau Lutheran Choir, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the Stevens Point Barbershoppers, and a project featuring a puppeteer and area children in "Carnival of the Animals." Concerts were given in the Grand Theater in Wausau, Schofield, Wisconsin Rapids and a riverfront summer concert celebrating Independence Day. The Guild continued to be a very vital part of the organization, conducting flagship fundraisers, supplying an army of volunteers and serving at the core of the social aspect of the orchestra.
Dr. Patrick Miles was selected as Music Director in 2002. Guest soloists during his tenure included jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson, violinists Lorre Lynn Trytten, Joel Fuller and David Greenberg, soprano Mary Southworth, mezzo-soprano Holly Wrensch, flutist Chris Norman and the Chris Norman Ensemble, Bob Kase & Gunnar Bruning-trumpets, pianists Michael Keller, Molly Roseman, and Dmitri Levkovich, bassist Catalin Rotaru, David Hastings - saxophone, the American Horn Quartet, flutist Paul Doebler, oboist Stacey Berk, duo harpists Matthew Agen and Rachel Brandwein, and many more. The fifty-fifth anniversary of the orchestra was celebrated with a commission from Dr. Barbara Harbach. The project, One of Ours, was based on the writings of Willa Cather. Area artist Annette Schuh created paintings of the Cather homestead in Nebraska. Other collaborations included an original composition of Alice in Wonderland (a ballet) by Stacey Berk, with the Point Dance Ensemble, the Monteverdi Master Chorale with the Wausau Lyric Choir in Verdi's Requiem, and a world premiere of a Concerto for Ceramic Horn by Charles Rochester Young. The piece was performed on a ceramic horn created by artist Dick Schneider, who also crafted ceramic horns for sale. The CWSO was proudly a member of a consortium project organized by the American Symphony Orchestra League and funded by the Ford Motor Company, featuring premier performances in all fifty states. The two-part project included Joan Towers' Ford-Made in America and Joseph Schwanter's Chasing Light. The biennial Dorothy Vetter Educational Concerts serve an important part of our mission by presenting a concert for approximately 1900 area fourth grade students. During the 2019-20 season, the CWSO celebrated both its 70th anniversary and the retirement of Dr. Miles after seventeen years of leadership.
2019 and Onward
Today, the core of the CWSO consists of sixty five musicians coming from the central Wisconsin region. The players hold an array of occupations; many are music educators, university professors, students and full-time professional musicians. As we enter a new decade, the CWSO anticipates artistic growth and the continuation of its mission, with a vision to the role of the orchestra as a staple of the central Wisconsin community. We are pleased to welcome Dr. Andres Moran as our new music director.
ONE CONDUCTOR'S VIEW
The Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra is a project in community music development. For many, it is the end result of the efforts of a number of music education enterprises which include in our area: the school music departments, the university music department, the Wausau Conservatory, the American Suzuki Talent Education Center, the Conservatory of Creation Expression, and many area private teachers.
I view music and its performance as belonging to all the people--not only to "professionals and kids." But, while we avoid any kind of exclusivity in playing personnel, we do expect that those who participate with us as orchestral performers all be of serious intent about music making. This is the only just and fair position.
I believe the community to be the final frontier of musical development and the one most meaningful to the people who inhabit it. By the late 20th century, the musical needs of the nation and the world have been well taken care of by the international music profession. By contrast, however, community music is still insufficiently understood and in need of development by careful, thoughtful, musicians and teachers who have the vision and philosophical stance to build a community-based musical establishment, which can properly serve all the people. The CWSO is one of the most important parts of this establishment in central Wisconsin.
- Jon Borowicz, 6/25/85
CWSO Orchestra Conductors
- 1948-52 Peter J. Michelsen
- 1953 Waclaw Betlejewski
- 1955 Joseph Henry
- 1956 Martin Feldman
- 1957-69 Hugo Marple
- 1969-70 Robert Schultz
- 1970-71 James R. Duggan
- 1971 Arthur L. Fritschel
- 1971-74 Geary Larrick
- 1974-75 Robert Biederwolf
- 1975-81 Donald Greene
- 1981-91 Jon Borowicz
- 1991-2001 Eric Townell
- 2002-19 Dr. Patrick Miles
- 2019-Present Dr. Andres Moran