History of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra

Lansdowne Symphony History

The history of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra starts with it’s founding in 1946 to provide music for the First Presbyterian Church of Lansdowne, and was an outgrowth of the efforts of Laurence Ustick and the Men’s Bible Class.  By 1951 the orchestra had become Lansdowne’s community orchestra.

Raymond Mason, Music Director, 1946-1950

Raymond Mason was the first director of the Lansdowne Symphony, bringing the group a long way musically. He conducted the group’s first public concert on May 22, 1947, leading the 34 member orchestra in a program of 19th century classical works, as well as traditional and popular American pieces—a varied musical offering which would continue to be a characteristic of the ensemble. Members of other churches joined the group which was known as the Lansdowne Community Church Orchestra.

Clarence Mayer, Music Director, 1950-1952

Clarence Mayer, French Horn, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the Lansdowne Community Church Orchestra a professional’s concept of their work. As a result of his foresight, the first concert was held in the Lansdowne High School auditorium. Previous to this, the performances of the group had been confined to the various churches of Lansdowne and charitable organizations such as the Presbyterian Home for the Aged on City Line. During this time, the orchestra was renamed the Presbyterian Men’s Orchestra.

Harry Mitchell, Music Director, 1952-1953

Harry Mitchell introduced professional performers for the first time as drawing cards. During that year, Miss Carol Abbott, daughter of the principal of Lansdowne High School, played the Greig A Minor Piano Concerto, accompanied by the Orchestra. Reflecting this broader orientation, the name was changed again to Lansdowne Community Orchestra. As the scope and influence of the Orchestra in the community broadened, ladies were drawn into the group and Mrs. Ellen Taxis became one of the first women to play with the orchestra (violin).

Felix Molzer, Music Director, 1953-1955

Felix Molzer, on a student visa from Vienna, and on a musical good will tour to the United States, came to Lansdowne through contacts with Mrs. Elizabeth Brumbaugh and her husband John. His dynamic leadership and broad symphonic background in Europe, as well as the United States, provided the impetus for such musical excellence that the group attained the large membership and balanced instrumentation to qualify as a symphony orchestra. The name thus became the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra.

Henri Elkan, Music Director, 1955–1980

Henri Elkan, a well-known musician and music publisher, served as conductor from 1955 to 1980. A major turning point in the history of the Lansdowne Symphony occurred in the 1955-56 season, with the appointment of the accomplished violist and violinist Henri Elkan—who would lead the orchestra with distinction for 25 years—as Musical Director and Conductor. More elaborate concert programs and the addition of program notes reflected increased professionalism, as did the frequent appearance of guest artists with the orchestra. (Over the years, these have included the renowned pianists Susan Starr, Natalie Hinderas, and Don Alexandre Feder, cellist Samuel Mayes and Lorne Munroe, bass Roger Scott, soprano Wilhelmina Fernandez.) Greater outreach to the community was accomplished through much-augmented adver-tising, subscriptions for the concert programs, and the establishment of an orchestra association in 1955, as well as a Women’s Auxiliary, in existence by November of the following year. In this period, moreover, the orchestra announced a special concern “to develop music appreciation by our young people,” and accordingly, presented the first Children’s Concert on March 31, 1957. The Young Artists concerts were established in 1961, providing an opportunity fOr student audition winners to perform as soloists with the orchestra.

Jacques Voois, Music Director, 1980–1991

Jacques Voois of West Chester University took over the podium in 1980.  He undertook the most ambitious venture to date in the orchestra’s history: performing live at a midnight concert broadcast around the world from within the United Nations in New York, in celebration of Earth Day.  This performance of the third movement of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 with a young Russian soloist was the first time in history that a symphony orchestra performed within the United Nations.

Irving Ludwig, Music Director, 1991–2012

Irving Ludwig, former violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was appointed Music Director in 1991.  With uncompromising high standards, he dramatically elevated the musical capabilities of the orchestra.  He involved his talented family in the orchestra, featuring son Michael (later Associate Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra and then Concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic) as concertmaster for a time and also as soloist, and son Mark (violist with the Boston Symphony) as soloist.  He also brought the collaboration of many of his colleagues from the Philadelphia Orchestra, including our former concertmaster Herold Klein.  Under Ludwig, the Lansdowne Symphony began its annual Young Artist Competition, selecting 3 or 4 talented young people to perform concertos with the orchestra each season.  The orchestra also premiered a contemporary work by Massachusetts composer Thomas Oboe Lee.  Ludwig instituted collaborations with the University of Pennsylvania Choir (Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in Philadelphia) and the award-winning Upper Darby High School Choir (Handel’s Messiah and other works), and often featured chamber pieces and concertos performed by members of the orchestra.

Reuben Blundell, Music Director, 2014 – present

Reuben Blundell has been Music Director of the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra since 2014. Read more about Maestro Blundell here!

Widely regarded as the top local community orchestra, the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra now offers a season of 5 concerts performed at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center and at other area venues.  Following the passing of Maestro Ludwig, the orchestra is continuing its traditions of musical excellence, service to the community, and promotion of area talent.

Click here to access our archives of old programs and photos.