Since 1924, the Amarillo Symphony has played a leading cultural role in the Panhandle region, the State of Texas, and the nation.
Situated in the Panhandle Plains of West Texas, Amarillo is home to the only professional symphony in the Panhandle region. The symphony’s beginnings stem from a twelve-member group of musicians known as the Philharmonic Club. These “Original 12,” headlined by Miss Grace Hamilton, began playing special concerts for residents in their homes beginning in 1924. Hamilton led the Philharmonic Club for a year and then, from 1925 to 1926, Hall Axtell took over. By 1926 the Philharmonic Club had a full-time conductor, Ellis B. Hall, who stayed with the Philharmonic until 1936.
After Maestro Hall left in 1936, the orchestra went through six conductors. Maestro Barron stayed on for eight years, struggling through droughts, dust storms, the Great Depression, and World War II. After Barron’s eight years, a new musical director, A. Clyde Roller, came on board in 1948. Roller, Lee Bivins (the president of the board), and Edward Melin (a violin teacher) wanted nothing but the best and sought musicians from all over the state of Texas. Their goal to turn the Philharmonic Club into a symphony required money. They found their solution by forming the Amarillo Symphony Guild in 1955.
By the late 1960s, the Philharmonic had officially changed its name to the Amarillo Symphony, and in 1968 it began playing in the Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium where it remained for almost four decades. A new conductor, Thomas Hohstadt, took over for a period of eleven years. Maestro Hohstadt, along with
The symphony moved to a new venue, the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, in 2006. Conductor James Setapen led the symphony from 1988 to 2007. He integrated a unique artistic quality and organization into the symphony that has made the Amarillo Symphony a distinctive orchestra. In addition, the Amarillo Symphony hosts its Youth Orchestra, with its roots stretching back to the 1950s.
In 2007 Kimbo Ishii-Eto took over as the sixteenth conductor of the symphony, and the 2008–09 season marked his first full season in residence with the symphony, which had more than seventy-five musicians.
In 2013, Maestro Jacomo Bairos was selected to be the seventeenth conductor and music director. He established the first Composer-in-Residence program for the symphony and fostered community partnerships through collaborations with local artists. Bairos helped introduce a music educational program known as ClassAct, designed to present lessons to schools throughout the Panhandle.
Presently, the Amarillo Symphony consists of eighty-five musicians. The symphony’s programs include an eight-concert season, with educational concerts, including the Amarillo Symphony Youth Orchestra.
– Adapted, with permission, from Stephanie S. Sorensen
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