The vision of Mrs. W. C. Windsor and efforts of members of the Music Committee of the Tyler Women’s Forum culminated in the creation of the Tyler Symphony Orchestra; first performing March 16, 1936. A four-concert season, under the direction of three successive conductors, was presented each year until the group disbanded during the Second World War. Community leaders whose ranks included Mrs. Varina G. Powell, a Tyler Symphony violinist, and Roger A. Harris, manager of the Chamber of Commerce, revived orchestra operations in 1950.
Joseph Kirshbaum of the North Texas State University music faculty was named resident conductor, successfully leading and promoting the Symphony’s growth until his retirement in 1978.
Reflecting the region from which it drew both musicians and audience, the Orchestra was renamed the East Texas Symphony Orchestra in 1954. Orchestra operations have grown from a budget of $25,000 to a current budget of just under $1,000,000, administered by a management team of an President/Executive Director, Finance and Human Resources Director, Patron Services Director, and Development Director. The organization is governed by the East Texas Symphony Orchestra Association Board of Directors, composed of volunteers from the community who represent a variety of professions and skill sets. Orchestra personnel are an ensemble of professional musicians from East Texas and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area.
Community support for the ETSO has always been vigorous and broad based. Since its inception in 1955, the Women’s Symphony League of Tyler, Inc. has remained the most significant contributor to the annual operating budget. Additional funding comes from individual and corporate community support, grant funding through public and private foundations, and endowment support from the East Texas Symphony Orchestra Foundation.
Throughout its history, the East Texas Symphony Orchestra has performed in venues throughout the Tyler area. With the 1997-1998 symphony season, ETSO moved its main subscription series to the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Tyler. The orchestra continues to offer special concerts in other local venues such as TISD’s Caldwell Auditorium.
In addition to its subscription concert series, the ETSO has long been committed to student engagement. In 1951, Maestro Kirshbaum established regular concerts for elementary students from area public and parochial schools. Through the decades these school programs have ranged from traditional symphony concerts to multi-media programs to dramatic presentations from the Classical Kids Live series. The ETSO’s production of Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin won first place in Education at the Texas Association for Symphony Orchestras Conference in 2004. In 2012, ETSO began working with area schools to present Carnegie Hall’s collaborative Link Up program, the first performances of which took place in May 2013.
In 2008, the ETSOA entered into a partnership with the City of Tyler to relocate its offices downtown and join with the city in renovating the former Liberty movie theater into Liberty Hall, an intimate performance space to seat approximately 300 patrons. On September 10, 2011, Liberty Hall was officially opened with a recital by acclaimed cellist and Tyler native Ralph Kirshbaum, son of the late Joseph Kirshbaum. Liberty Hall provides opportunities for ETSO to further engage with the East Texas Community, by offering diverse musical programming and special events presented for smaller audiences in this unique setting. Liberty presentations compliment the Orchestra’s primary concert series performed at the Cowan Center.
Throughout its history, ETSO has offered a variety of opportunities for patrons to engage with the concert experience. Currently, Noon Notes, an interactive and lively dialogue with the ETSO Music Director and guest soloists, takes place the day before each subscription concert at Liberty Hall in downtown Tyler. Opening Notes, originally hosted by Jim Yancy and now presented by Jim Broussard, was first offered in the 1999-2000 season. Opening Notes offers concert insights immediately prior to the subscription series performances at the UT Tyler Cowan Center.
The hiring of Richard Lee in June 2012 as the 10th Music Director and Conductor of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra marked the start of a new phase of development for the orchestra. As it has throughout its history, the ETSO continues its commitment to engage, embrace and excite the East Texas community through inspiring musical performance, making classical music accessible to diverse audiences. The music performed flows from the stage enveloping audience of any listening level.