Mission & History
Orchestral music in South Bend began 14 years before the inception of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra. Frederic Ingersoll, a violinist from Cleveland, Ohio, came to South Bend in 1894, after four years of study in Berlin and Switzerland. He envisioned bringing aspects of the musical life he had experienced in Europe to American cities. Ingersoll taught violin students privately in South Bend until 1906, when Milton B. Griffith established the South Bend Conservatory and hired him as faculty. By 1918, Ingersoll had been promoted to the position of director of the conservatory and utilized his pupils, as well as local musicians, to form the first professional symphony in South Bend. This symphony provided invaluable musical life to the people of South Bend and gifted local musicians an opportunity to perform. Unfortunately, in 1932, the pressures of the Great Depression forced Ingersoll’s orchestra to fold.
That same year, Australian violinist Edwyn H. Hames formed the South Bend Symphony Orchestra as a performing ensemble of his string students assisted by professional musicians. Making do with the limitations of the Depression economy, these first musicians were all volunteers who paid dues of 25 cents per week in order to afford music rentals, and they were responsible for selling tickets to every concert. The initial group consisted of 44 members, but rapid growth was on the horizon. By 1933, the orchestra had begun establishing itself in the community, with George Mauer of the South Bend Tribune remarking that “if the quality of the performance and the size and enthusiasm of the audience are criteria then the organization will be a permanent one.”
In 1935, Ella Morris took the helm as president of the Symphony and began transforming the group from its humble volunteer roots into the fully professional organization it was to become. Ella Morris organized a Women’s Committee with hundreds of volunteers to sell tickets and host events, marking a significant transition to a self-sustaining organization. A Men’s Committee, under the guidance of Ms. Morris, worked to bring in donations. Her leadership was essential for the growth of the organization into a fully professional ensemble.
By the 1940s, the membership of the Symphony exceeded 80 musicians and world-famous guest artists began performing with the group, including Arthur Rubenstein and Percy Grainger. In its first decade, the Symphony had relied on musicians from Chicago to supplement its ranks, but as time went on efforts were made to cultivate orchestra members from the local community. By the 1950s, most of the symphony consisted of local musicians. Only two-thirds of the members were professional musicians, with a significant number working full-time in local factories and companies, such as Studebaker. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Symphony grew and performed with increasingly renowned guest artists, such as Van Cliburn and Glenn Gould.
In 1972, Edwyn Hames conducted his final concert with the Symphony, completing a tenure of 40 years as music director. At the time, Hames had one of the longest tenures of any American conductor. A period of transition followed, with a series of guest conductors leading the Symphony in the early 1970s. Seymour Rubenstein conducted one complete season, followed by Herbert Butler, who remained in the position until his untimely death in 1982. Rubenstein and Butler’s era saw immense growth in the organization. In 1980, the Midwest Pops merged with the Symphony, and Newton Wayland conducted the Pops concerts until 1991. Wayland’s Pops concerts were known for being exceptionally engaging for audiences and musicians alike.
Kenneth Kiesler became music director in 1985 and a gift from Dr. Corey B. McFarland allowed the orchestra to increase salaries and establish a core of players, raising the artistic level of the Symphony. A series of chamber orchestra concerts with these core musicians began, continuing today as the June H. Edwards Mosaic Series.
Maestro Tsung Yeh was appointed music director in 1988, beginning a 28-year tenure that would further expand and refine the reach of the Symphony. Notably, Yeh was the first conductor to ever serve as a music director to both a western symphony and a Chinese symphony simultaneously. His legacy is one of greatly expanded concert offerings and a strong endowment campaign that has ensured the continuing legacy of the Symphony.
After Yeh’s retirement in 2016, Alastair Willis was named music director and he continues to serve in this position today. His charismatic and theatrical music making leads the Symphony in exciting performances that establish the South Bend Symphony Orchestra as one of the finest orchestras in the Midwest.
The South Bend Symphony Orchestra has been host to legendary musicians such as Percy Grainger, Van Cliburn, Arthur Rubenstein, Glenn Gould, Michael Rabin, Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, Yuja Wang, Hilary Hahn, and Yo-Yo Ma, who will be making his return to our stage in May 2023. The Symphony today performs three separate concert series, in addition to 50 free chamber music performances in the community and brings live symphonic music to over 10,000 students annually. As we celebrate our landmark 90th Anniversary Season, we thank you for your patronage, ensuring the lasting legacy of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.
Grammy nominated conductor Alastair Willis is the Music Director of the South Bend Symphony Orchestra, and Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Symphonia Boca Raton. In past seasons, Willis has guest conducted orchestras around the world including the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Mexico City Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfonica de Rio de Janeiro, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra Berlin, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, China National Orchestra (Beijing), and Silk Road Ensemble (with Yo-Yo Ma) among others. His recording of Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortileges” with Nashville Symphony and Opera for Naxos was Grammy nominated for Best Classical Album in 2009.
In the 2021-22 season Willis was re-engaged by the Chicago Symphony, Qatar Philharmonic, Pacific Northwest Ballet, La Porte County Symphony, and Salute to Vienna, and made his debut with the Rockford Symphony. This season he returns to the Chicago Symphony, Qatar Philharmonic, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Salute to Vienna.
Previous positions include Music Director of the Illinois Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor with the Florida Orchestra’s Coffee Concert series, Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony, Assistant Conductor with the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, and Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Born in Acton, Massachusetts, Willis lived with his family in Moscow for five years before settling in Surrey, England. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors from England’s Bristol University, an Education degree from Kingston University, and a Master of Music from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Willis currently resides in South Bend, Indiana, with his wife and daughter.
For more information about Alastair Willis, visit alastairwillis.com.
Tsung Yeh, Conductor Laureate
Shanghai-born conductor Tsung Yeh served as the Music Director of the South Bend Symphony for 28 years. Maestro Yeh earned the distinction of being the first conductor ever to hold music directorships of both a western symphony orchestra and a Chinese instrument orchestra. As recognition of his 28 years of service, on June 17, 2016, Tsung Yeh received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Indiana Governor, Michael Pence.
Frequently performing to sold-out audiences in Singapore, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra orchestra marked its first tour of Europe in 2005, traveling to the Barbican Centre in London, The Sage Gateshead in Newcastle, England, and the Budapest Spring Festival. In 2013, in recognition of his contributions to the nation’s heritage and cultural climate, the Government of Singapore awarded Mr. Yeh with the Cultural Medallion, its highest honor for work in the Arts.
Mr. Yeh holds degrees from the Mannes College of Music and was one of three conductors chosen for the Conductor Mentor Program of the American Symphony Orchestra League, working with Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez. He has previously held posts as Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Resident Conductor of The Florida Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. Maestro Yeh has appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, The Minnesota Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony, China National Symphony Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Calgary Philharmonic. He has recorded for the Hugo, Delos, and Naxos record labels with several orchestras.
Meet the Musicians
Elizabeth M. Cullity Chair
Barbara K. Warner Chair
Jae Sung Lee
Nicolas Orbovich - Principal
Irene M. Siberell Chair
Rachel Brown - Associate Principal
Wells Fargo Bank Chair
Maria Ritzenthaler - Associate Principal
Barnes and Thornburg, LLP Chair
Lara Turner - Principal
Dorothy and Herbert A. Schiller, M.D. Chair
Brook Bennett - Associate Principal
Peg and Robert O. Laven Chair
South Bend Symphony Orchestra League Chair
Edward W. Randles - Principal
Leo J. McKernan Chair
Victor Dome - Associate Principal
Leslie Short - Principal
Christopher H. Wilson Chair
Eliza Bangert - Second Flute
Jane and E. Blair Warner Chair
Scott Metlicka - Masterworks
Pricewaterhousecoopers, LLP Chair
Trevor O'Riordan - Principal
Dr. and Mrs. James M. Wilson Chair
Sharon and Vincent Scuzzo, M.D. Chair
Jill Dispenza - Principal
Jason E. Kramer
Mary and L. Brown Sanders Chair
Jennet Ingle - Principal
Cushwa Family Chair
Lindsay Wiley - Second Oboe
Beverly Butts Guthrie
Stanz Foodservice, Inc. Chair
Kurt Civilette - Principal
Jeremiah Frederick - Associate Principal
Shirley and Joseph Hennessy Chair
Brian Goodwin - Assistant Horn
Stephen Orejudos - Principal
Linda and Bruce Bancroft Chair
David Roode - Principal
Masterworks - Mossberg and Company, Inc. Chair
Pops - The Martin Foundation Chair
Yukitada Onitsuka - Principal
The Thompson Family Fund Chair
Renee Wilson - Principal
Barbara J. Shields Byrum Chair
Soo Young Kim
Pops - Wanda Haines Chair
Simon Gomez Gallego
Kent Barnhart - Principal
Peg and Ray Larson Chair
* On leave of absence for season 19-20
Board of Directors
- President - Donna P. Lamberti
- Vice-President - Marvin V. Curtis, EdD
- Treasurer - John Seidl, CFA
- Secretary - Breighan Boeskool, PhD
- John T. Axelberg *
- Bruce R. Bancroft *+
- Bruce BonDurant
- Jack M. Champaigne
- Robert Coleman, PhD
- Marvin V. Curtis, EdD
- Linda Doshi
- Kyle P. Everett *
- John Finlay
- Rachel Goff
- James Harris III, MD
- Joan Joshi
- Tim Maher*
- Cordell Martin
- Susan Ohmer, PhD
- Nicolas Orbovich
- Cristyne Porile
- Mark Ross, PhD
- James Sawdon
- Cari Shein *+
- Larry Thompson, MD *
* Past President
+ Director Emeritus
Office Manager/Executive Assistant
Halle McGuire Hobbins
Director of Development
Director of Marketing