History of the Danbury Music Centre

the 1930's and 1940's

Since its inception in the 1930's, the Danbury Music Centre has been the center of music for Danbury and its environs. Donald Tweedy founded the Danbury Music Centre and became the conductor of the Danbury Community Chorus and the first conductor of the Young People's Chorus, as well as organizing several small instrumental ensembles.

In 1935 and 1936, Donald Tweedy directed two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In 1938 a Bach-Handel concert directed by Donald Tweedy was presented at the Empress Theater. A very important part of the Danbury Music Centre's activities during its first two decades was the series of professional concerts, the first of which was presented in 1935 at Concordia Hall on Crosby St.

The first conductor of the Danbury Orchestral Society was Lawrence Perry, who was then Supervisor of Music in the Danbury Public Schools. In the early 1940's Lawrence Perry was succeeded as conductor of the group by Peter Page. Later in the decade, Henri Nosco, assistant concertmaster of the NBC Orchestra, became the conductor of the group now known as the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

the 1950's and 1960's

Early in the 1950's, John Burnett became the conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra. During the Burnett years, the Danbury Little Symphony (now the Danbury Community Orchestra) and the Summer String Classes were founded. John Burnett was to continue for more than twenty-five years as conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

Ruth de Villafranca became the Danbury Music Centre's first Executive Director in the late 1950's, and a few years later was succeeded by the late June Goodman who remained in that position for many years. The Danbury Community Chorus (now the Danbury Concert Chorus) disbanded during World War II and was re-established in the mid 1950's by Jesse Walker. When he stepped down as conductor of the chorus in 1966, he was succeeded by James E. Humphreville.

In 1958, the Professional Concert Series separated from the other musical activities. This was made necessary by provisions of the will of Donald Tweedy. Before his death in 1948, the Danbury Music Centre's founder had provided support in his will for the amateur aspect of the Music Centre's programs. The Concert Series was reorganized as the Danbury Concert Association, and the volunteer performing groups continued under the auspices of the Danbury Music Centre.

the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's

Upon the death of John Burnett in 1977, James Humphreville assumed responsibility for the Danbury Symphony Orchestra while continuing to conduct the Chorus. Robert Hart Baker was engaged as conductor of the Little Symphony. Richard Brooks, a student of John Burnett's, took over the Summer String Program, and Marcia Klebanow began the Summer Children's Choruswhich is now under the direction of Jonathan Pope. In 1981, Richard Brooks was named conductor of the Danbury Little Symphony, which was shortly thereafter renamed the Danbury Community Orchestra. Richard Brooks recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as director of the Danbury Community Orchestra.

In 1984, Nancy Sudik assumed the responsibilities of Executive Director and Charles Matz became the conductor of the Danbury Concert Chorus. During the next few years, the Danbury Music Centre grew with the addition of a recital series; a Chamber Orchestra; and a new constituent group, the Danbury Symphonette. Edith Schwab was the first director of that group for inexperienced string players. The Summer Program was greatly expanded to include an extensive Summer Band Program which was under the direction of Steve Chetcuti until 2000, and is now under the direction of Albert Montecalvo.

In 1986, the City of Danbury,a major supporter of the Arts, offered the beautiful facilities at the old public library in CityCenter Danbury, to the Danbury Music Centre. In 1993, upon the death of famous contralto Marian Anderson – a member of the Music Centre Board of Directors – Mayor Gene Eriquez, the Common Council, and the Music Centre Board of Directors voted to name the rehearsal/recital hall the Marian Anderson Recital Hall. In 1994, Steel Drum Classes under the direction of Harold Proudfoot, were added to the list of summer programs, and in 2001, Handbell Choir, under the dirction of Diane Cooke was the newest addition. In 1995, the Symphonette evolved into the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra, directed first by Alex Romanov and beginning in 1999, by Glen Lebetkin. Each year, more and more elementary and intermediate level string students of all ages learn to work under a conductor in preparation for eventual membership in a full orchestra.

In 1995/96 the Danbury Music Centre celebrated its 60th Anniversary season with programs and observances throughout the year, culminating with a Gala Sixtieth Anniversary Concert on June 1, 1996, which featured musicians from all the major performing groups. In collaboration with the Danbury Opera Company, a fully staged performance of Bizet's Carmen was presented in May of 1997. Also in 1995, after ten years of service, Charles Matz retired and in 1997, Leslie Eckstein joined us as music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus .

Two very popular, o continue to draw standing room only audiences each December. One is the annual presentation of Handel's Messiah, directed by James E. Humphreville since 1967, which will this year come under the baton of Richard Price. The other is the annual production of the Nutcracker Ballet, first under the direction of Dorothy Burdette in 1967, which has grown to three fully staged performances, featuring 150+ community dancers as well as the volunteered services of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, and is now under the direction of Arthur Fredric and Lisa Denton.

the Danbury Music Centre on tour

The Danbury Symphony Orchestra and Danbury Concert Chorus have performed by invitation in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia (for the bicentennial celebration of the signing of the United States Constitution), and in 1989 took a two week performance tour to Austria, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The last overseas trip was in May, 2000, when some members of the Danbury Concert Chorus, under the direction of Leslie Eckstein, went to Cuba to sing in the 'First International Chorus Festival of Havana, Cuba'.

into the New Millennium

James E. Humphreville, Music Director and Conductor of the Danbury Symphony since 1977, and previously (1966) conductor of the Danbury Concert Chorus and French Horn player (1956) in the DSO, announced his retirement, effective April of 2000. The Board of Directors honored him by naming him Music Director, Emeritus and by establishing the James E. Humphreville Endowment Fund for the Danbury Music Centre. Mr. Humphreville continued conducting the annual performances of Messiah and Nutcracker for the next two years. The search for his replacement concluded in June 2002 with the appointment of David Katz. In April of 2001, Leslie Eckstein resigned as Music Director of the Danbury Concert Chorus and the Music Centre has named Richard Price to that position in June of 2002.

The Danbury Music Centre's programs continue to grow in size and popularity, with more and more people taking advantage of community music making opportunities. There is an optimistic outlook for classical music here in Danbury, as the Music Centre continues to offer musicians a place where they are welcome to rehearse and perform, and where the public is welcome to attend free and low cost performances.


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