Our History & Mission
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The mission of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is to develop and sustain a symphony orchestra of the highest artistic standards and to reach East Tennessee audiences of all ages by providing excellence in musical performance and education programs.
When Bertha Walburn Clark first performed with her string quartet in 1910, she laid the foundation for what would become the Southeast’s oldest continuing orchestra and a pillar of East Tennessee’s cultural life – the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Formally established in 1935, the KSO began a period of significant growth in 1947 when David Van Vactor assumed dual roles as Chairman of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Fine Arts and KSO’s Music Director. For the next 26 years, Van Vactor attracted many outstanding musicians to the community and nurtured the Orchestra’s burgeoning reputation for excellence.
In 1973, under the director of Arpad Joo, the Orchestra began compensating all musicians for their services and required each player to audition. Zoltan Rozsnyai took the KSO to a new level of professionalism in 1978 when he hired 16 full-time string players who eventually formed the nucleus of the Knoxville Symphony’s Chamber Orchestra. In 1985 Kirk Trevor joined the orchestra as Music Director and Conductor. During his 18-year tenure the KSO was recognized as one of the finest regional orchestra in theUnited States. He broadened the musical spectrum of the KSO by adding the Pops and Chamber series to the orchestra’s regular season, as well as the highly-acclaimed Clayton Holiday Concerts.
An international search to replace Maestro Trevor brought Lucas Richman to the podium as Music Director in 2003-04. He brought an exciting background in conducting and composing to the KSO, and was the recipient of a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Crossover Album for his work conducting the score of Christopher Tin’s “Calling All Dawns.” Continuing the orchestra’s tradition of artistic excellence, he has focused additionally on the education and outreach programs and initiated a Music and Wellness initiative that has been recognized nationally by the League of American Orchestras.
In the next decade, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra aims to touch the lives of more than a million people through accessible musical performances and education programs. The KSO is creating new programs and services in under-served neighborhoods, communities, and schools eager to be a part of an East Tennessee arts renaissance. Ths KSO is expanding music education programs at all grade levels in an effort to introduce music to future audiences and to train musicians of the 21st century. The KSO is focused on recruiting and retaining top quality musicians for the orchestra who will become active members of the Knoxville community.
In May 2016, Aram Demirjian was named the KSO’s eighth Music Director following a year-long search after Lucas Richman’s 12-year tenure as Music Director ended in spring 2015. The Orchestra saw talented guest conductors as nine candidates auditioned for the position during the 2015-2016 season. Newly-appointed Music Director Aram Demirjian will lead the KSO into the future of making excellent music that is accessible to everyone.
Today, the budget of the KSO spans more than $3 million and supports a core of full-time professional musicians who perform more than 200 programs throughout East Tennessee each season. Performing in the traditional venues of the Tennessee and Bijou Theatres, Civic Auditorium, and in non-traditional places like school classrooms, hospitals, city parks and churches, the KSO reaches more than 200,000 children and adults each year.