As Idaho’s largest and oldest performing arts organization, the Boise Philharmonic performs for over 50,000 people annually in concerts at the Morrison Center, NNU’s Brandt Center in Nampa, in schools around the state, and in smaller recital halls and venues. The 80+ member professional orchestra can trace its roots to earlier than 1885 with the formation of the Boise City Orchestra. The Boise Philharmonic performs fourteen Masterworks concerts per season, with repertoire from the most well known classical and contemporary composers, as well as commissioning new works. Additionally, a variety of “Pops” concerts, a chamber music series, and other symphonic events round out each concert season.
The musicians in the Boise Philharmonic hail from the best music schools in the country, including the Juilliard School in New York, the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, San Francisco Conservatory, and many others.
The Boise Philharmonic maintains a vast array of educational programs including: Musically Speaking, Backstage with the Artists, classes for young children, the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the annual Children’s Concerts with full symphony orchestra performing for 12,000 school children in 9 free performances, Verde Percussion Group - a purely percussion performance, Musicians in the Classroom, Ensembles in the Schools, and Conductor in the Schools.
The mission of the Boise Philharmonic Association is to musically enrich, entertain and educate through community engagement and music performance at the highest level.
Boise Philharmonic Society: 1887-1918
From a Few Frontier Musicians to a Musical Community
Boise was a small community in the 1880’s with just 2,000 residents. Local violin maker Adolph Ballot decided that Boise needed an orchestra. The first known photo we have of his orchestra dates from 1887, and is our only record of the original members of the Boise Philharmonic. In 1890 Ballot established the Boise Philharmonic Society in concert with Mr. Pasmore and M.A. Swift. No programs from this period remain, so we do not know the repertoire this early orchestra played. The trades and professions of these early orchestra members give us an insight into late 19th century life in Boise.
In 1891 the orchestra began to grow. New members included Con Hesse, clarinet, and R.A. Dickenson, bass. The orchestra underwent a period of reorganization in 1894 to better achieve the musical objectives of the original founders. On February 1, 1895, Adolph Ballot opened the Boise Conservatory of Music to train young musicians. Teachers included Ballot himself, D.F. Baker, J.S. Ryan and a Mrs. Swift. Students at the conservatory gave regular recitals and performances. The opening concert was entitled, "An Evening with American Composers," featuring the music of Stephen Foster. In the 1890s vocal concerts were given by girls studying voice with the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and other instrumentalists and vocalists joined members of the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra for a "Grand Orchestra and Vocal Concert." "Old Folks Concerts", honoring music from American’s earliest years, became an annual tradition. By 1898 Boise's orchestra grew in instrumentation to become a full orchestra.
Fun Fact: In an 1885 vocal performance by Mrs. D.F. Baker, a reviewer noted that there was, “no operatic screaming”. The repertoire for the concert included the song “Potatoes (they are small over there).” Was this an early agricultural marketing campaign? Records of this piece of music indicate it was published in 1882, right along with, “Bob up Serenely!” by Geo. Audran.
The turn of the 20th century brought notable performers to Boise including internationally renowned Polish patriot and composer Ignaz Padarewski in 1914 and piano virtuoso Josef Hofmann around the same time. In late 1914 the Pinafore Operatic Company was founded, incorporating a 16-piece orchestra. They performed the Opera Fatanitza by von Suppe, in 1915. The 1st Violinist of this opera orchestra, Albert J. Tompkins went on to be a prominent orchestra conductor and music teacher in Boise. By 1916 the Boise Philharmonic Society had changed conductors and the ensemble was renamed the Boise Symphony Orchestra. A performance of Handel’s Messiah was made possible by an alliance between the Boise Symphony Orchestra and the Boise Choral Society. Albert J. Tompkins conducted the orchestra and a Mr. Ward French rehearsed the singers. The Messiah is still performed annually today in Boise.
Boise Symphony Orchestra 1919-1940
Famous Soloists and Bells Ringing
The first-ever “Music Week” in American history, which became an annual event in Boise, opened on May 12, 1919, to much popular enthusiasm. The Boise Symphony Orchestra was promoted at this event in 1923, closing the program with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony under the highly experienced baton of Albert J. Tompkins. On April 27, 1921 virtuoso pianist and prodigious composer Leopold Godowski performed in Boise, which marked Boise’s evolution as a cultural hub. The late 1920’s saw increasing interest in the work of Idaho composers and musicians including a premier in 1929’s “Music Week” of Idaho Composer Gaylord Sanford’s Symphonic musical tone poem E-Da-Ho. In 1931 “Music Week” was named “Idaho Composer’s Week.” In 1929 the first annual “Idaho Music Contest” featuring young musicians, school bands and orchestras from across the state was organized. Guest artists, who came to Boise in the 1930’s, included Swedish Contralto Sigrid Onegin and the director of the piano classes at the American Conservatoire at Fontainebleau, Robert Casadesus. On February 7, 1940, the legendary Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff gave a concert in Boise.
Becoming the Modern Boise Philharmonic: 1941- 1966
On January 18, 1941, one of history’s most talented musicians, the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz, performed in Boise. The Boise Symphony Orchestra was renamed the Boise Civic Symphony Orchestra in 1950, and began to play an expanded repertoire. Under the direction of Henry J. Von der Heide the Symphony debuted with pianist Fern Nolte. The program included J.S. Bach’s Komm Susser Tod “Come Sweet Death”. On April 1st, 1952, the Orchestra played with the Boise Civic String Quartet with Von der Heide on Viola. The program included Strauss’s famous The Beautiful Blue Danube. Orchestra concerts soon became a regular event on Boise’s artistic and social calendar; in 1954, the Orchestra released its first program detailing a complete concert season. One milestone quickly led to another because of the dedication of the orchestra members and the value the Boise community placed on the musical culture of their city.
Established as the Boise Philharmonic in 1960
In 1960 the name of the Boise Civic Symphony was officially changed top the Boise Philharmonic Association, Inc. Jaques Brourman became the first conductor of the new organization. Repertoire included works by Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Brourman also pioneered the Philharmonic’s focus on young audiences with the “Young People’s Concerts”. Through music education, the youth symphony and children’s concerts the Boise Philharmonic is continuing Brourman’s legacy. Bassoonist William Schink began playing with the Philharmonic during the first years of Brourman’s tenure, and later became interim conductor of the orchestra.
Under Jaques Brourman’s leadership the Philharmonic continued to forge important community partnerships. In February of 1963 Brourman premiered Boise Junior College’s resident composer C. Griffith Bratt’s Symphony No. 1. Brourman also pursued partnerships with local choirs and singers, joining with them to produce such titanic works as La Bohème, Madame Butterfly, Judas Maccabeeus, La Traviata and the Student Prince. The performance of larger scale works enabled the orchestra to increase the quality and diversity of its artistic expression. In January of 1964 the Philharmonic accompanied celebrated ballet masters Marina Svetlova and Oleg Briansky. During the 1964-1965 Concert Season the College of Idaho Orchestra merged with the Boise Philharmonic. This move helped Brourman to encourage students’ interest in becoming professional orchestral musicians, and provided a new rehearsal space for the Boise Philharmonic at Jewett Chapel-Auditorium at the College of Idaho.
Boise Philharmonic 1967- 1986
Multi-Cultural…And Now On TV!
In 1967 Mathys Abas began his tenure as Conductor of the Boise Philharmonic. Originally from the Netherlands, Abas had joined the Dutch resistance during World War II, was imprisoned and beaten by the Nazis, and eventually detained in a concentration camp. Miraculously surviving World War II, Abas immigrated to the United States and began his music study. He became conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Midland Texas and The Metropolitan Choir of Cedar Valley, Iowa, before coming to Boise. Abas continued expanded the Philharmonic’s audience base by touring the Philharmonic to many outlying Idaho communities including Orofino, Wallace, Nampa and Caldwell. Abas continued Brourman’s initiative of actively involving accomplished young musicians. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of eastern musical instruments, Abas programmed a concert in 1968 with guest Greek artist Spyros Stamos who performed with the Boise Philharmonic on the santir, a large Arabian stringed instrument. The Philharmonic also initiated a special Monday preview concert for students. Leading coloratura soprano and actress Roberta Peters appeared with the Philharmonic in 1971. The great romantic pianist and composer Earl Wild also appeared with the Philharmonic under Abas’ baton. In 1974 illustrious cellist Yo-Yo Ma appeared with the Philharmonic when he was just 19 years old. William Shinck, Boise Philharmonic bassoonist and music educator, conducted the concert.
Late in 1974, after a brief transition period under William Shinck, Daniel Stern became the Boise Philharmonic’s next conductor. He began to invigorate and expand the Philharmonic’s repertoire stating, “We need to be a little more active in the encouragement of new music.” His vision strived to create a better orchestra. The Boise Philharmonic first hit the airwaves under Stern with KIDO radio broadcasts of performances. The radio broadcasts began to broaden the Boise Philharmonic’s audience base beyond concert ticket holders. New, custom-made timpani provided a major boost to the orchestra’s percussion section. In 1975 Senator Frank Church appeared with the Boise Philharmonic as narrator for Copland’s striking Lincoln Portrait. The 1975-1976 Season was centered on the national bicentennial with at least one American composer featured in each concert. During Stern’s tenure, the Boise Philharmonic began to experience sell-out seasons and offered additional concerts to facilitate greater audience attendance. Concerts were performed at the Capital High School’s auditorium. Outdoor concerts were given at Julia Davis Park or the Boise Pavilion. The Velma V. Morrison Center for Performing Arts was opened in 1984 on the campus of Boise State University, which became home to Boise Philharmonic performances. Stern’s tenure was characterized by an increased professionalism of the Boise Philharmonic and an expansion of its audience base.
Boise Philharmonic 1987-1999
High Art and Community Spirit
James Ogle became conductor of the Philharmonic in 1987. Ogle became known for his engaging presence and great enthusiasm as an artist. The Boise Philharmonic String Quintet, Brass Quintet and Woodwind Quintet began to give outstanding performances. In 1988 three Pops concerts were performed, including a benefit pops concert at the Ste. Chapelle Winery, a concert at Art In The Park that featured selections from Rogers and Hammerstein, Duke Ellington, Sousa and Mexican Folk music; and at the opening of the Boise Town Square Mall. In 1989, in celebration of the upcoming Idaho State Centennial, the Boise Philharmonic joined with the American Festival ballet to perform a contemporary version of the classic opera/ballet Giselle by Adolphe Adam with choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Breaking with convention, the opera was set in 1850s America instead of medieval Europe, a controversial move that made clear the Boise Philharmonic’s intention to be on the leading edge of art.
As the 20th century drew to a close the Boise Philharmonic continued to add more diversity and breadth to its repertoire. The Halloween Pops Concert of 1990 featured P.D.Q. Bach’s intoxicating Firewater Music performed on liquor bottles, in addition to A Grand Overture for Three Solo Vacuum Cleaners and a Floor Polisher. In March of 1992, The Boise Philharmonic backed Boise’s own jazz icon Gene Harris. The concert opened with a musicology lesson on the influence of Jazz upon classical repertoire followed by a solo performance by Gene Harris. A 1993 concert debuted McCall composer Jim Cockey’s latest work, Samuel Barber’s aurally challenging Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengance, and the always edgy Charles Ives’ Variations on America, Gershwin’s Concerto in F rounded out the program.
Other notable moments from the final seasons of the 20th century included the “Beat Beethoven” fundraiser in which the Philharmonic played Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 to a 5k run in Julia Davis Park. The competitors literally ran while the famous symphony was being played. A 1997 concert featured the charismatic British violinist Pip Clark conducted by Gisele Ben-Dor. Many of Boise’s children enjoyed the Young Person’s Coloring Guide to the Orchestra, an educational coloring book of orchestral instruments. Rounding out the century was a performance with music legend Kenny Rogers and an all Gershwin pops concert.