BG Philharmonia marks 100 years of performances


If the Bowling Green Philharmonia were surprised with a birthday cake, it would take all the current
members and alumni to blow out all 100 candles. The orchestra continues celebrating its 100 years of
music in the Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts with a bevy of special events during
planned for this spring.
According to a historical timeline found in a program from the 75th anniversary season compiled by Lee
Anne Snook and Dr. Vincent Corrigan, former music faculty, BGSU President Homer B. Williams had “a
vision in 1918 for a musical group that could perform at official events in Bowling Green.” Williams
assigned faculty member Calvin Biery to the task of organizing a functional orchestral group. He found
seven willing students, plus a faculty colleague, who made up the first “suitable” university orchestra.

The first “orchestra” was “more inspirational than actual,” said Dr. Emily Freeman Brown, current
Philharmonia music director and conductor. “It developed over time into the strong ensemble it is
Brown accepted the conducting position for the Bowling Green orchestra in 1989 and was “pleased to find
out she was not the first woman conductor.” During World War II, eligible men left Bowling Green to
fight for their country, and women took over jobs that traditionally were designated for men. In 1942,
Lorlie Virginia Keshner accepted the conductor position as the first woman ever to do so. She was known
for her exceptionally strong work ethic. By hosting separate rehearsals for each section of the
orchestra, Keshner made sure every member received proper practice time.
Keshner passed the conductor’s baton on to Maribeth Kitt in 1944, but Kitt’s orchestra disbanded after
one year, due to “a lack of players that silenced the orchestra.” It briefly stopped for similar reasons
in 1919, but has remained fully active since associate professor of music William D. Alexander revived
the dormant group in 1946.
Alexander faced an orchestra that was stripped to the bare bones and was described as “pretty rough” by
Snook. He met the challenge by stepping outside the music college to recruit non-music majors to fill in
the missing sections. After the revitalization, the membership steadily increased to 85 members.
Membership has fluctuated in the past to include faculty members, as well as a few select Bowling Green
community members. Most notably, a local cellist named Glenna Craw held a seat for 12 years. The
ensemble was not recognized as the Bowling Green Philharmonia until Polish conductor Grzegorz Nowak
re-named the group during his tenure as conductor in 1982.
Robert Spano replaced Nowak in 1985, after Nowak won a prestigious conductor’s award at the International
Competition for Music in Geneva. Spano was widely known for the excellent quality of his performances
and went on to receive Grammy awards for his recordings and an honorary doctorate from the university.

The BG Philharmonia plans to cap its celebration of the 100-year milestone with a special concert on May
5, when they will present Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony along with all five BGSU choirs and guest soloists
in Kobacker Hall. Additionally, all concert program guides during the spring semester will highlight
different aspects of the Philharmonia with testimonials, photos, past program notes and stories about
members. Performances throughout the season will feature special guest artists, alumni members, gifted
young musicians from BGSU and local schools.
“I have a terrific group of freshmen and new people,” Brown said. “The spirit, the mood, the enthusiasm
and the energy are incredible.”
On Feb. 1, the BG Philharmonia entertained Ohio Music Education Association Professional Development
Conference attendees with a dramatic program featuring Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka.”
It is considered a terrific honor to be invited to play at the conference, where professional ensembles,
community orchestras, children’s choruses, jazz and string groups, and Ohio high school and college
orchestras come together under one roof. The conference is set to take place in the Huntington
Convention Center of Cleveland.

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