The Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra is one of Abilene’s oldest performing arts organizations. It serves as the cornerstone for others, enriching the cultural life of a region.
Its history traces back to September 1950, when community supporters organized a musical group called the Abilene Symphony Orchestra. Jay Dietzer was the first conductor and orchestra members could recall audiences of less than 100 people in the opening season. The concerts were held in the old Abilene High School, which is now Lincoln Middle School.
The first program was presented December 2, 1950 with works by Beethoven, Schubert, Grieg and Wagner. Mr. Dietzer remained with the orchestra through three seasons. A Women’s committee, a forerunner to the Abilene Philharmonic Guild, appeared in the second season to assist with fundraising efforts. Julius Hegyi, former concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, conducted the next two seasons (1953-54 and 1954-55).
Walter Charles was named Musical Director/Conductor of the orchestra during the 1955-56 season. Five concerts, a community “Messiah” and youth concerts were part of the schedule. The Student Concert lecture program to better prepare the students for concert listening was started by Mrs. Scott Taliaferro.
At the beginning of the 1960-61 season, the Abilene Symphony Orchestra and the Abilene Civic Music Association merged to form the Abilene Philharmonic Association. This same year, Leo Scheer became conductor.
George Yaeger, Associate Conductor of the San Antonio Symphony, became the fifth conductor of the Abilene Philharmonic in 1966. He continued to expand orchestra operations by instituting the well-received Pops Concert Series and by tailoring the Student Concert program to younger audiences. In 1970, the orchestra, under Conductor Yaeger, moved into the Civic Center. In 1988, Mr. Yaeger insured the future of the orchestra by securing grants to establish the Abilene Philharmonic Foundation. Mr. Yaeger retired after the 1992-1993 season, and was honored with the title “Conductor Laureate.”
After an extensive two-year search, the Association named Shinik Hahm as the Music Director of the Orchestra for the 1993-94 season. He served for ten years, converting the orchestra from a community orchestra to a professional organization.
The current Music Director, David Itkin, is now in his sixth season with the orchestra experiencing unprecedented growth. During his tenure, more season seats have been sold than at any time in the orchestra’s 60-year history. The seasons have included two sold-out Christmas concerts and an April 2006 concert that marked the first time ticket buyers could choose between an evening concert and a matinee.