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In 1939, founding conductor Harry Berman gathered a group of 30 advanced amateur musicians for a first rehearsal; they performed their first concert on April 7, 1941, at Sprague Memorial Hall on the Yale University campus under the name “Philharmonic of New Haven, Connecticut.” In its early years, the orchestra’s repertoire consisted primarily of light classical selections.
In the 1960s, Gordon Emerson became music director. Under his 40-year leadership, the orchestra expanded its repertoire to include local, state, and world premieres of works by composers such as Charles Ives and Leonard Bernstein. In addition, under its new moniker, the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, it began to feature instrumental soloists and local school choruses.
Christopher James Hisey became music director in the 2000s. Under his baton the orchestra expanded its repertoire, including a memorable performance of Carmina Burana in Norwalk.
In 2018 the Civic Orchestra welcomed rising star Kalena Bovell to the podium. At the time, Maestro Bovell was the only American professional conductor of African-American and Hispanic descent. Her reputation and skill soon led her to a full-time assistant conducting position with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
The 2019 season brought music director Matthew Scinto to the Civic Orchestra. During the COVID-19 shut-down Maestro Scinto kept members engaged with on-line discussions of musical topics. In 2022 Maestro Scinto accepted a faculty position at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
In 2022, the Civic Orchestra was under the baton of Interim Director Robert “Bobby” Smith, who brought inspiring energy to match his formidable conducting skills.

Now in its 85th season, and after an extensive music director search, the Civic Orchestra of New Haven is proud to present its first concert under the direction of Maestro Samuel Hollister.

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