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In 1939, founding conductor Harry Berman conceived the idea of an adult orchestra whose members played not for compensation but for enjoyment. He collected a group of 30 advanced amateur musicians for a first rehearsal in his studio. They began preparations for their first concert, given 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 works by Gilbert and Sullivan, light classical pieces, and traditional compositions by Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven. In the 1960s, when Harry Berman stepped down and Gordon Emerson began conducting the orchestra, the group started to include soloists and local choruses in its programs.


Under Emerson’s direction, the orchestra expanded its repertoire to include local, state, and world premieres of works by composers such as Carlos Chavez, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Henry Cowell, and others. In addition, the Civic Orchestra of New Haven began offering gifted local artists the opportunity to perform solo concertos, and started collaborating with local choruses for its annual holiday performance.


With the opening of the 21st century Christopher James Hisey became music director. Under his leadership the orchestra continued its tradition of offering two annual performances in the heart of downtown New Haven. The programming remained primarily in the classical arena, and Maestro Hisey’s creative direction with the group welcomed collaboration with local composers and soloists.


In 2018 the Civic Orchestra welcomed Kalena Bovell to the podium. Dedicated to outreach and education, Maestro Bovell had worked with youth orchestras and ensembles in California and Connecticut, spreading her passion for classical music. Her reputation reached all the way to Tennessee, where in 2019 she was offered a full-time conducting position with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.


The 2019–2020 season features interim music director Matthew Scinto. A frequent guest conductor in past seasons, Dr. Scinto is no stranger to the Civic Orchestra. While earning a DMA at Boston University, he twice received the conducting department’s award for excellence in conducting. His primary teachers were Stefan Asbury and David Hoose; he also studied at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. Dr. Scinto is the founder and conductor of the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra, and he brings vitality, experience, and skill to the Civic Orchestra of New Haven.

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