Bozeman Symphony Makes History at 50

Resounding Jubilation

Kathleen Melee 

The Bozeman Symphony was founded in 1968 as a college community orchestra, giving both music faculty at Montana State University and community members an ensemble in which they could perform the great symphonic masterworks. The early years were challenging, but current maestro Matthew Savery credits founding Music Director Creech Reynolds with laying the groundwork that led to the first sell-out subscription season in 2001.  The following year, the Symphony added a second performance of each concert, and now regularly attracts a broader audience each season.  With almost two hundred members of our community as regular performers in the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choir, the reach of the organization has remarkably increased in the new century.  With free children’s and family concerts and family dress-rehearsal passes, orchestral music touches at the lives of over 2,500 young people a year. The Symphony also boasts a vibrant outreach program called Far Afield, bringing small ensemble performances to a variety of venues, including schools, libraries, and community centers throughout southwest Montana. At 50, the achievements of the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra (only 5 years younger but no less beloved than the Berliner Philharmonie, which marked its Jubilee in 2013) show us we are living the musical dream right here in Gallatin Valley.  

Come as you are and honor our fabulous 50th anniversary with a Birthday Bash on January 13 and a spectacular Jubilee Season, which opened on September 30 with a performance featuring guest artist Jon Nakamatsu on piano in an American Celebration. Every concert is designed to be a highlight, a commemoration. The Bozeman Symphony has invited back some of our most memorable and adored guest artists and we are playing a magnificent repertoire—culminating in a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, for which there will be approximately 240 performers on stage.  Most exciting will be the opportunity to enjoy the many talented musicians of our very own orchestra and choir and a stunning collage concert, a Bozeman-favorite format introduced by Maestro Savery.

Maestro Savery’s enthusiasm for the half-centenary of the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra is infectious, and the biggest lesson he’s learned over the past twenty years with a non-profit organization that provides employment and engagement opportunities for over 300 people, donates thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets to local nonprofits, and awards scholarships to promising young musicians (over and above presenting world-class concerts), is that the Bozeman audience not only loves symphonic music, but KNOWS symphonic music. “We play for an audience that expects our best each and every time we take the stage.” Savery is also grateful for a general open-mindedness in our audience—one that allows for some experimentation. Bozeman audiences are typically welcoming of unusual repertoire and new experiences.

Savery describes our musicians as “a group of dedicated and hard-working people who give one hundred percent every time they perform. The feeling that the musicians ‘want it bad’ is always palpable.” Some of our symphony and choir members are celebrating milestones of their own, including Alan Leech on “bionic” bassoon with 46 years and Sharon Eversman, retired MSU biology professor, with 50 years. (For more about Alan, Sharon, and their colleagues, see the 50th Anniversary Season brochure at the website.)  As those who uphold standards of international musical repertoire, the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choir routinely perform works that have been recorded by major ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras (which celebrated their 125th anniversaries in 2015 and 2013, respectively), as well as new and daring works by contemporary composers. Our musical family right here in Bozeman offers us a down-to-earth approach to a nevertheless dazzling musical feast of the senses for our Golden Jubilee.

Bozeman Symphony Executive Director Christopher Freeze paid tribute to the spirit of “innovation and entrepreneurship” that led the to the Symphony’s founding, and to the “thousands of musicians, patrons, volunteers, and donors” that have sustained it for 50 years.  What a splendid year ahead! The 50th Jubilee reminds us that we have much to be proud of as a community understanding of all forms of music, including that which is known as classical, and many firsts.  In January 1968, the Bozeman Symphony Society was incorporated as a non-profit entity, with its first concert making the stage on November 24. In 1990, Elizabeth Sellers was named as conductor—the first female (and non-MSU faculty member) in the State of Montana to direct the Symphony.  Two years later, the Far Afield program began, allowing audiences to see, hear, and feel the music being created live in their towns. In 1993,  Willson Auditorium was overfilled with joyous fourth-graders representing 13 schools from Bozeman, Livingston, Gardiner, and Mammoth Hot Springs to hear and see the first children’s concert.  Maestro Savery came to Bozeman the next year, and by 1998 The New York Times revealed our last-best-symphonic secrets to the world.  The year after the first-sold-out-season in 2001, Tributary Magazine recognized the Symphony as the “Best Cultural Amenity” in the state. In that same year, 2002, Family Pass and Rush Tickets were introduced. 2004 brought us the “Montana is a Symphony” license plate supporting the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras, which then grants money supporting orchestras in the state.  Documentarian Ray Strother, in 2008, highlighted the BSO and Choir in “Sun Road—The Story of a Symphony” focusing on how the Bozeman Symphony has won the heart of a region and become a cultural leader. 2012 initiated the Festival of the Fourth collaboration between the BSO and Gallatin Empire Lions Club presenting a free, inspirational program of patriotic and popular music and fireworks display. The 78-year-old Willson Auditorium underwent a $3.5 million restoration in 2015; $75K was raised in the Symphony Summer Challenge in 2015 to address the organization’s critical need for funds.  2018 is our Jubilee Year -- Maestro Savery invites us all to “Come to concerts, join us for our very special Birthday Bash in January, and help us ensure another 50 years of Symphonic and Choral music in the Gallatin Valley by generously supporting our organization through attending individual concerts or subscribing to the entire spectacular season.”

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, the Bozeman Symphony will host a 50th Birthday Bash at the Emerson Center for the Arts to celebrate its incorporation in January 1968.  A five-course gourmet meal with wines (catered by Daniel Wendell of The Food Studio) will be accompanied by musical performances, live and silent auctions, all beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale now for $100.00 per person at or at the Box Office, 406-585-9774. 

This was made by

Kathleen Melee

Kathleen Melee, writer, teacher, researcher, and 4H mom, was a college, foreign-languages textbook editor in San Francisco for many years before working briefly at MSU from 1998-2000, and returning to Bozeman permanently in 2014.

View more of Kathleen Melee 's work »