Play it Forward
A cornerstone of Fort Wayne’s arts and culture environment, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Since its founding, the philharmonic has brought timeless classical pieces, popular scores and patriotic compositions to life. And in doing so, it has captured the ears and hearts throughout the community.
The origins of the philharmonic can be traced to the mid-1920s when conductors John L. Verweire and Emil Bouillet started the city’s first orchestra. Unfortunately, due to financial struggles attempts to build a lasting organization failed. And it wasn’t until the Fort Wayne Civic Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1927, under Conductor Gaston Bailhe that the city had its first permanent orchestra.
For nearly 20 years, the civic orchestra established the city’s foundation for classical music. However, at the time, many felt that in order to grow there was a need for better leadership.
Agnes Nelson was one of these people, and she is recognized as a pivotal figure in building the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. “Agnes Nelson stirred up the orchestra by saying, ‘If we don’t get a good music director, we’ll never be a good orchestra,'” said Anita Cast, co-chair of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s 75th Anniversary committee. “Agnes is really the person who is responsible for getting us into a different league.”
Knowing that Nelson was right, the search for new leadership began. And in 1944, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was born when the German Conductor Hans Schwieger was hired as its first conductor. Although Schwieger only had a four-year tenure, what he brought to the philharmonic was significant. As the Fort Wayne’s Philharmonic’s popularity grew and generated awareness, Schwieger was cherry-picked to lead the larger orchestra in Kansas City in 1948.
But thanks to Schwieger’s leadership, what followed were three decades of growth, navigated by his successors, especially Igor Buketoff. For another two decades, Fort Wayne enjoyed a thriving symphony orchestra. But no one, not even the orchestra’s new bassist, Adrian Mann, could have expected the excitement and success that the 1970s would bring.
“My first concert was at Parkwest Shopping Center,” said Mann. In 1973, the department store was just about to open. It was still empty, but we played a pops concert there. It wasn’t what you’d call a professional concert.”
But that was about to change when Music Director Thomas Bricetti, took the podium. According to Mann, Bricetti was the first to recognize the potential of the orchestra. “He’s the one who brought in better musicians. He’s the one who helped make it a professional model,” he said.
Bricetti’s momentum continued to power the orchestra throughout the 1980s as the philharmonic was able to begin to offer its musicians full-time positions. For the first time in its history, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was the professional symphony orchestra Agnes Nelson had envisioned in 1944.
Cast, whose volunteer and historian work with the philharmonic began in 1969, is quick to praise Bricetti, but also pointed out that he was not alone. “One thing that’s really important for people to know is that we’ve had amazing conductors and music directors, starting with Hans Schwieger,” she said.
Along with the philharmonic’s good leadership, many throughout the city have also worked to ensure its success. “There’s always been a lot of community involvement and support. This is really one of our greatest strengths,” said Mann. “Local companies are very supportive. The pop concerts are free because they’re underwritten by Steel Dynamics.”
But of course, the success of a symphony orchestra must acknowledge its talented musicians. Though they’re often front and center when it comes to making the music, their contributions aren’t only made on onstage. Musicians such as Mann, who is heading into his 47th year with the orchestra, give much more to the organization than just their musical talent.
“One of our heroes is Adrian Mann,” said Cast. “He has done just about every job, in addition to serving as the orchestra’s principal bass player. He was the stage manager. He was the librarian. And for the past 30 years, he’s been arranging music.” And today, you’ll find Mann as active as ever under the guiding hand of the philharmonic’s current Music Director Andrew Constantine.
Constantine, who joined the organization in 2009, not only brings skill and elegance to the podium, but also has worked to infuse the orchestra with new energy for the new century. With a very forward-thinking approach, Constantine is projecting the majesty of music to a larger audience than many ever thought possible.
His vision for the philharmonic is driven by watching other orchestras struggle for validity in an increasingly digital world. “In today’s world, if orchestras stand still, they stagnate,” said Constantine. “You have to move forward all the time.” This is why he and the philharmonic’s Associate Conductor Caleb Young work tirelessly to expose Fort Wayne’s younger community members to what classical music and live musical performances offer.
“You have to keep asking yourself, ‘Are we relevant? Are we serving the community?'” said Young. “I feel so good about our philharmonic because we continue to ask these hard questions.”
Young’s desire to engage a younger audience inspired him to create the Phil’s Music + Mixology and CineConcert events. Music + Mixology engages the area’s young professionals through music and networking at one of the city’s more popular restaurants. The CineConcert series allows attendees to enjoy a popular movie while its score is performed by a live orchestra. These are just two of the modern approaches Constantine and Young are bringing to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
But this is not to say there is any less of an emphasis on the timeless classical works of the masters. One glance at the philharmonic’s schedule and it is easy to find performances of a range of music from Beethoven’s 5th to the music from the opera Marriage of Figaro; the reality is the public’s ever-changing musical tastes and preferences have be taken into account.
“The past 15 or 20 years have been difficult for symphony orchestras,” said Mann. “The old model of playing concerts and expecting people to show up, that’s gone. Orchestras are aware that they now have to develop their audiences.”
No music director understands this quite like Constantine, which is why he brings the music to the people. Whether playing at Parkview Field, treating Sweetwater’s Crescendo Club to free performances, traveling to nursing homes throughout the region or participating in school music programs, the philharmonic works hard to fill the Summit City with music.
But local recognition is not enough. According to Constantine, the rest of the world needs to know about Fort Wayne and its orchestra. Last year, he oversaw the recording and release of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s first commercial recording, Bricht: Orchestral Music, Vol. 1. Not only did the recording garner stunning reviews worldwide, but the music also embodies the Hoosier spirit by highlighting the compositions of former Indiana University Music Professor Walter Bricht. And Constantine is far from done. “I want to take this orchestra to major venues around the country and overseas to serve as a representative of Fort Wayne and Indiana,” he said.
This April, under the direction of Troy Webdell, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to perform at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City. The youth symphony is an example of the commitment Constantine and the philharmonic have to education, working to ensure the success and viability of his orchestra and classical music well into the future.
“I see education as absolutely essential to what we’re doing,” said Constantine. “As music is being more and more underrepresented in our schools, we feel a greater responsibility to develop our teaching programs.”
Along with the youth orchestra, orchestra musicians perform in schools throughout northeast Indiana. “We get a chance to speak with the kids and have them ask questions,” said Mann. “A lot of the kids have never seen classical musicians perform.” Constantine echoed the importance of this program, while, again, looking ahead, “It can literally be life-changing for the students. It’s inspiration and guidance like this that are going to be what moves them forward.”
It doesn’t take long to pick up on Constantine’s ever-present theme of looking towards the future. He knows that from the moment Agnes Nelson took a stand for better leadership, the philharmonic has always had an unwavering commitment to its future. “Without the work, enthusiasm, and financial support of the community over the past 75 years, there wouldn’t be the organization I get to take into the future,” said Constantine.
“As exciting as is the 75th anniversary, we have to focus on answering the question, ‘Where are we going to be in another 75 years?'” And luckily, Constantine has the answer.
“You speak to the people in the community. You learn about their passions, their interests and what they feel an orchestra brings to the community. It’s my responsibility to listen and offer things that will engage the community.”
Fort Wayne’s commitment to artistic excellence was established long ago. “Fort Wayne should be so proud. Our orchestra is much better than many orchestras that are much bigger. And that’s been the case for a long time,” said Cast.
The Fort Wayne Philharmonic is strategically planning and implementing its vision for the future. With investment from the community, the philharmonic is committed to create an orchestra that reaches every part of northeast Indiana.
From 2019/2020 Season
Opening Night: The new season will open with a Tchaikovsky Spectacular. From lush, romantic piano harmonies to flurries of scales and powerful brass passages, this concert is a feast for the senses. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will accompany the orchestra during Tchaikovsky’s Coronation March in the first half of the concert. October 5, 7:30 pm, Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Boulevard
CineConcerts: Experience the Fort Wayne Philharmonic conducted by Caleb Young performing Oscar and Emmy winning composer Jerry Goldsmith’s complete iconic score live with the film Rudy, the classic underdog story with its inspirational message, plays on a 40-foot HD Screen. October 12, 7:30 pm, Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Boulevard
Masterworks Series: Music Director Andrew Constantine will conduct Fort Wayne’s Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s 5th. Nothing says classical music like the opening of Beethoven’s most famous work. November 2, 7:20 pm, Rhinehart Music Center, Purdue Fort Wayne, 2101 Coliseum Boulevard East
For tickets and more information, fwphil.org
75th Birthday Bash
October 18, 2019
Music Director Andrew Constantine will conduct the recreation of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s first concert performed on October 18, 1944. The program includes pieces by Bizet, Schubert, Wagner, Rogers, Barlow and Liszt. Concertgoers are encouraged to stay afterwards for a slice of birthday cake. 7:30 – 9:30 pm, Free, Arts United Center, 303 E. Main Street, fwphil.org