Mission & History
Embracing the Past – Pointing to the Future Brief History of South Bend Symphony Orchestra Association
The South Bend Symphony Orchestra began in 1932 as an all-volunteer organization. Now in its 89th season, it has become a well-recognized, professional Midwestern orchestra and is well on its way to being “South Bend’s” orchestra.
The South Bend Symphony performs 20 concerts annually: including five Jack M. Champaigne Masterworks Series concerts, three Indiana Trust Pops Series concerts, three June H. Edwards Mosaic Series concerts, Home for the Holidays concerts, the MLK Day Celebration Concert, four Shein Family Young People’s Discovery concerts, a free outdoor summer concert, and a newly-added family concert. In addition to the Season’s performances, the SBSO is incredibly active in the community with over fifty-five free community performances and events in schools, libraries, museums, and retirement homes.
From humble roots
A local string ensemble conceived the noble idea for the South Bend Civic Orchestra in the early 1930s. Its instructor, Edwyn H. Hames, nurtured this small and growing bank of musicians as the first music director, a position he held for 40 years. Hames’ tenure is considered one of the longest in American Symphony Orchestra history.
The original orchestra, all volunteers, was made up of musicians, business people, and teachers. During the early years musicians also provided funding for rehearsal space and music. In 1935 Mrs. E. M. Morris (Ella) was asked to form a fundraising committee (all men), which soon became the first Board of Directors. While the Board raised money to cover operational costs, tickets to these early shows were free and seating was “first come, first serve.” Mrs. Morris and her daughter, Mary Lou Morris Leighton, each in her time, was chairperson of the Board.
As the orchestra grew it moved from venue to venue performing in spaces such as the Progress Club, University of Notre Dame, Central High School, O’Laughlin Auditorium at St. Mary’s College, John Adams High School, and lastly the Morris Civic Auditorium known now as the Morris Performing Arts Center. After Mr. Hames retired, a search committee appointed Seymour Z. Rubenstein as Music Director and Conductor. Before Mr. Rubenstein moved on, he co-founded the Midwest Pops Orchestra with Mrs. Robert Helper, another community leader.
A period of growth and professional recognition
In 1975 Herbert Butler took up the baton as Music Director/Conductor for a period of eight years. This was a time of tremendous growth in artistic performance, attendance and visibility in the community and surrounding area. Music education programs were added. Between 1973 and 1983, as the orchestra grew in stature, its budget did as well, up to $100,000 annually. Tragically, Mr. Butler, a resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was killed in a bizarre auto accident on his way home from a rehearsal. The baton was then passed to Kenneth Keisler who established a “core” of musicians and principal players, who were competitive on a national level.
Mr. Keisler also established the SBSO’s first Chamber Orchestra. In 1988 the Chamber Orchestra was endowed and continues to perform today as the June H. Edwards Chamber Orchestra in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame.
The merger of the Midwest Pops and the SBSO was accomplished in 1981 and, for the next ten years, Newton Wayland, nationally recognized pianist, arranger, and conductor, became the first permanent SBSO Pops conductor. Mr. Wayland offered a wide variety of musical entertainment with many concerts being performed at Century Center. After Wayland’s departure, the Pops concert series was been conducted by Conductor Laureate Maestro Tsung Yeh.
One of the finest regional orchestras in the country
After 28 years as Music Director, recently-retired Conductor Laureate Tsung Yeh helped to build the SBSO into one of the finest regional orchestras in the central United States. He has overseen great growth, with many changes in the structure of the orchestra, which now boasts 75-80 contract musicians.
Forty of these musicians are recipients of endowed orchestra chairs, as a result of Vision 2000, an aggressive endowment campaign to ensure the success and stability of the orchestra for years to come. The campaign also created endowments for the Chamber Music Series and the summer Chamber Music Academy. The second phase of the campaign, Special Gifts, added endowments for the Music Director and the music literature fund.
The SBSO has, over eight decades, hosted a multitude of critically acclaimed guest soloists. A sampling includes: Van Cliburn, Yo Yo Ma, Marian Anderson, Peter Peers, Artur Rubinstein, Dame Myra Hess, Glenn Gould, Yefim Bronfman, Peter Serkin, Christopher Parkening, Robert Merrill, Robert Bonfiglio, John Browning and Lang Lang.
Grammy-nominated conductor Alastair Willis is currently 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.
Last season Willis was re-engaged by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Pacific Northwest Ballet, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, La Porte County Symphony, Salute to Vienna, and the Symphonia Boca Raton. This season he returns to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Salute to Vienna, and the Symphonia Boca Raton.
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 degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
Willis currently resides in South Bend, Indiana.
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
D. Sean Sinnett
Gabriel Schlaffer – Principal
Anonymous Patron 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 – John T. Axelberg
- Vice-President – Jennifer Kary, CPA
- Treasurer – John Seidl, CFA
- Secretary – Pat Ruszkowski
- Bruce R. Bancroft *+
- Deb Barker
- Bruce BonDurant
- Jack M. Champaigne
- Daniel M. Chipman, PhD
- Robert Randolf Coleman, PhD
- Marvin V. Curtis, EdD
- Linda Doshi
- Kyle P. Everett *
- John Finlay
- Shirley Geraghty +
- Rachel Goff
- James Harris III, MD
- Joan Joshi
- Donna P. Lamberti
- Tuck Langland
- Tim Maher*
- Cordell Martin
- Ryan Matthys *
- Nancy Menk, DMA
- Beth North
- Aaron Perri
- Cristyne Porile
- Ernestine Raclin *+
- Kitty Rose *
- James Sawdon
- Cari Shein *+
- Matthew Teters, MD
- Larry Thompson, MD *
* Past President
+ Director Emeritus
Patron Services Manager
Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations
Director of Annual Giving
Halle McGuire Hobbins
Director of Development Programs
Director of Operations
Director of Education
Director of Marketing