The Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra
Michigan’s oldest continuously operating orchestra played its first concert on February 16, 1899. Conductor John B. Martin combined the local German orchestra with his music students for the performance. Martin would go on to conduct the all-volunteer orchestra for the next 40 years.
Raymond Gould led the orchestra for its first concert at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium on December 7, 1941, during which an announcer informed the audience of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite this frightening news, the concert continued in the tradition of “the show must go on.” Under Gould, the Symphony became a charter member of the American Symphony Orchestra League and created a Board of Directors, a Players’ Board, and a Women’s Committee for fundraising. Gould’s son-in-law, Roger Parkes, took up the baton for thirteen years, during which the orchestra grew to 70 players. The 50th anniversary concert in 1949 was attended by eight members of Martin’s original orchestra.
Four conductors followed in the next eight years, followed in 1968 by William Stein, who would lead the orchestra for two decades. The 75th anniversary concert included the eighth and ninth performances of Leonard Bernstein’s monumental new piece, Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers. Stein led the orchestra on two European tours. He brought the first fully staged Nutcracker ballet to Battle Creek and led partially staged performances of La Bohéme, Coppelia, Fidelio, Hansel and Gretel, and The Mikado.
In June 1989, Matthew Hazelwood took over the baton. Concert highlights of the 90s include world premieres of commissioned works by African-American composers Leo Edwards and Gary Powell Nash, performances of Verdi’s Requiem in Battle Creek and Jackson, a semi-staged production of Tosca, and performances of Carmina Burana in Battle Creek and Albion. A longstanding partnership with the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival has brought artists of international stature to Battle Creek.
The 100th season in 1998-1999 featured world-class guest artists, record attendance, and tributes by local and national leaders. The season culminated in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “Ode to Joy,” followed by a gala reception hosted by the Symphony Guild. In 1992, the orchestra committed to expanding engagement and inaugurated an annual children’s concert for 1,900 area second graders. In 1996, the Symphony launched its Community Music School program. Both of these important programs continue today.
In 2000, the Symphony and its school merged with the Battle Creek Boychoir, Girls Chorus, and Community Chorus to form The Music Center of South Central Michigan. In March of 2000, the choruses joined the orchestra on stage for a semi-staged production of the opera La Boheme to audience and critical acclaim. The successful collaboration continued on stage with Carmen in 2002, and off stage with the 2001 launch of The Music Center’s Making Music, Making Leaders campaign to build a 10,000-Square-foot teaching and rehearsal facility on the campus of Kellogg Community College.
In December 2002, Anne Harrigan was named the Symphony’s new Music Director, and she assumed leadership for the 2003-2004 concert season. Since her appointment, Harrigan has presented the U.S. premiere of Shaun Davey’s A Brendan Voyage, a concerto for uilleann (Irish) pipes and orchestra; an exceptional version of Guys and Dolls with an almost all POC (people of color) lead cast; collaborations with late Montana photographer, Michael Sample; the world premiere of Buffalo Crossing—A Northern Cheyenne Story, featuring 14 guest artists from Indian Nations; and the world premiere of Hold On, America, Hold On, a concert featuring five narrators with orchestra presenting testimonies by Black Americans throughout history. Other memorable concerts include Battle Creek native and Broadway star Doug LaBrecque with Symphony, a semi-staged production of Mozart’s Magic Flute, star cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and multi-media presentations of an aerialist, film scores, and Peter Boyer’s Grammy Award-nominated Ellis Island. In August 2005, the Battle Creek Symphony performed with the Boys Choir of Harlem for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 75th anniversary celebration, attended by Governor Jennifer Granholm and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.