Lamar Stringfield, a debonair, enthusiastic, and ambitious musician from Charlotte, North Carolina, became the KSO’s second conductor, beginning a short tenure in April 1946. For several reasons, he was a natural choice to continue the work of Mrs. Clark. He was a friend of the Clarks’s: Mr. Clark had given him his first flute lessons while both were serving in the armed forces overseas in World War I. After leaving the military service, Mr. Stringfield studied under Georges Barrere at the Institute of Musical Art in New York. His experience as the organizer and first conductor of the North Carolina Symphony at Raleigh gave him insight into the problems and potentials of a young, amateur orchestra like the KSO. He was also well qualified as a director of music, for his symphonic suite, From the Southern Mountains, won him the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1928. This work was first performed by the KSO on February 12, 1946 when Mr. Stringfield first appeared as guest conductor (as well as flute soloist), and again during the KSO’s 50th anniversary season, at the orchestra’s 8th Annual Free Family Outdoor Concert on Sunday, September 16, 1984 in the Tennessee Amphitheater at World’s Fair Park with Zoltan Rozsnyai conducting. Mr. Stringfield knew contemporary music, having conducted at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and he was the founder of the North Carolina Institute of Folk Music. Traditional mountain music was close to his heart.
Essentially a classicist, Mr. Stringfield was widely known for his Brahms and Bach interpretations. Still, he believed in programming something for everyone. He once said, “Concerts, after all, are for enjoyment—not just for education.” His promise to present everything from classical music to contemporary pops to mountain music seemed to assure continued growth and audience expansion for the orchestra. He had audience appeal as well: Mr. Stringfield’s personal exuberance made him a natural showman. Katherine Moore recalls that for his first concert in October 1946, “he had the young and lovely pianist Miss Dorothy Hummel perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue wearing a blue sequined gown, with a host of blue spotlights trained on her keyboard.” Not only did the KSO have its first sellout crowd, but that season, the total audience soared to 4,000. For the first time, concert pairs (repeat performances of a program) were given.
Under Mr. Stringfield the orchestra grew to include 65 members, with a number of players coming from Oak Ridge to rehearse and perform in concerts. It was also during his tenure that the Knoxville Symphony Society changed its charter to become a nonprofit educational organization for the encouragement of all the arts in the community. Annual fund drives and fund-raising events were initiated by the Society to provide compensation for the players and to increase the number and types of programs offered.
Mr. Stringfield returned to North Carolina at the end of the 1946-47 season, leaving the KSO on firm footing as a growing community orchestra. He died at Asheville in 1959 at age 61.
This chapter, Lamar Stringfield: A Natural Showman, is substantially reprinted from Fifty Years of the KSO: A Legacy of Symphonic Excellence published in 1984. Edited by Rudy Ennis. © 1984 and 2010 Knoxville Symphony Society. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced in whole or in part without written consent from the Knoxville Symphony Society, 100 S. Gay Street, Suite 302, Knoxville, Tennessee 37902.