The Orchestra’s first performance, on January 13, 1929, took place in the Tucson High School Auditorium under its first conductor, Tucsonan Camil Van Hulse. The Orchestra played Schubert’s “Rosamunde Overture” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Local papers hailed the debut as a monumental achievement and said the audience greeted the Symphony’s performance with “surprise, admiration and bursts of enthusiasm. ”
Though there were only two concerts the first season, the second offered three concerts and featured a new conductor, Joseph De Luca, who remained with the Symphony for five years. Concerts were held on Sunday evenings at 8:30. The early concert programs were all-orchestral; on March 16, 1930, soprano Mary Margaret Fischer appeared as the orchestra’s first soloist. Midway through the third season, the TSO moved to the Temple of Music and Art, first playing there on January 25, 1931.
1935 was a year of dramatic change. Up to that point, funds were meager and obtained through ticket sales ($5 for a season!) and the fundraising. Even the daily paper observed that “against many odds the symphony came through the year sans debt—but it managed on a starvation diet as to musical library and many other details. ” The Tucson Symphony Society’s board of directors soon agreed, in a controversial decision, to allow the orchestra to come under the aegis of the University of Arizona. The brief and stormy union of the university and orchestra allowed growth through student players, financial aid, scores and instruments. TSO regained its independence at year’s end.
In 1950 when players learned that Music Director and Conductor Samuel Fain was being paid $200 a season for his efforts, dissension began to grow within the orchestra’s ranks and 18 unionized players walked out (as did Mr. Fain, himself a musician). That year’s audit showed $3,286.08 in revenue, with a surplus of $1,975.17!
The union was suggesting $15 for a concert for a wage, and even volunteered to raise the money itself. Eventually, in 1952, the board agreed and, from that day to this, orchestra players have received pay for their service. Another union demand was filled when the board employed its first full-time conductor, Hungarian-born Frederic Balazs.
Volunteer organizations that support the TSO are the Tucson Symphony Orchestra League through fundraising programs and events including the biennial Art of Music, recruiting volunteers to help the administrative office, creating programs to increase awareness of the TSO and building constituencies among the outlying communities young people, professional groups, service organizations and others; the SaddleBrooke Symphony Guild and FATSO—Friends and Admirers of the TS0, which organize dinner/concert events throughout the season for their members.
In 1958, the first Tucson Symphony Youth Orchestra was formed. By the mid-1960s, the orchestra was recording season audiences of some 13,000 in a six-concert season. In 1967, the orchestra had its first sold out season (six concerts, all singles in the 2,600-seat University of Arizona auditorium). Tickets in those days were $2 to $4 while a season ticket, top seats, was $20. In 1968, the orchestra became a metropolitan orchestra with a budget in excess of $100,000. In 1971, the Symphony had its gala opening featuring guest conductor Arthur Fiedler at its new performance venue, the City’s Music Hall.
As the Symphony continued to grow and expand its music offerings, the need for a new home and administrative and practice space became apparent. After a major fundraising campaign, the TSO acquired its own building that today houses administration as well as areas for practice, auditions and small performances.
Currently the TSO performs at the following venues: Tucson Music Hall, Catalina Foothills High School, Tucson Symphony Center and Desert Hills Lutheran Church in Green Valley. Additional performances take place at some of Tucson’s best restaurants as part of the Moveable Musical Feasts, four evenings of fine music and dining which take place every season.
In 2003, the TSO Chorus made its debut under the direction of Bruce Chamberlain when they performed Handel’s Messiah, a MasterWorks Chamber Orchestra special. The 90-voice TSO Chorus has continued to perform Messiaheach season in addition to other works.
In more than 80 years of existence, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra has grown from a volunteer community orchestra to a fully professional orchestra serving Southern Arizona. In the last 20 years, growth has been apparent through the innovative programming, children’s concerts, community concerts throughout Southern Arizona, expansion of repertoire and ever-increasing artistic achievement.
There are over 375 education and community partnership presentations provided by the TSO annually, which reach tens of thousands of children and adults throughout southern Arizona. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra provides the most in-depth music education programs for children in all of Arizona. These include in-school sessions by TSO musicians, concert performances and comprehensive curriculum, as well as the annual Young Artists Competition and Young Composers Project.
The mission of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra is to share beautiful, professionally performed music with as wide an audience as possible. It does so each season through a series of nine Classic concerts, four MasterWorks Chamber Orchestra concerts, five TSO Pops! concerts, Classic, MasterWorks and TSO Pops! Specials, ensemble performances, Moveable Musical Feasts and award-winning educational programs.