The 1930's and 1940's
Since its inception in the 1930's, the Danbury Music Centre has been the center of music for Danbury and its environs. Donald Tweedy founded the Danbury Music Centre and became the conductor of the Danbury Community Chorus and the first conductor of the Young People's Chorus, as well as organizing several small instrumental ensembles.
In 1935 and 1936, Donald Tweedy directed two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In 1938 a Bach-Handel concert directed by Donald Tweedy was presented at the Empress Theater. A very important part of the Danbury Music Centre's activities during its first two decades was the series of professional concerts, the first of which was presented in 1935 at Concordia Hall on Crosby St.
The first conductor of the Danbury Orchestral Society was Lawrence Perry, who was then Supervisor of Music in the Danbury Public Schools. In the early 1940's, Lawrence Perry was succeeded as conductor of the group by Peter Page. Later in the decade, Henri Nosco, assistant concertmaster of the NBC Orchestra, became the conductor of the group (now known as the Danbury Symphony Orchestra).
The 1950's and 1960's
Early in the 1950's, John Burnett became the conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra. During the Burnett years, the Danbury Little Symphony (now the Danbury Community Orchestra) and the Summer String Classes were founded. John Burnett was to continue for more than twenty-five years as conductor of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.
Ruth de Villafranca became the Danbury Music Centre's first Executive Director in the late 1950's, and a few years later was succeeded by the late June Goodman, who remained in that position for many years. The Danbury Community Chorus (now the Danbury Concert Chorus) disbanded during World War II and was re-established in the mid 1950's by Jesse Walker. When he stepped down as conductor of the chorus in 1966, he was succeeded by James E. Humphreville.
In 1958, the Professional Concert Series separated from the other musical activities. This was made necessary by provisions of the will of Donald Tweedy. Before his death in 1948, the Danbury Music Centre's founder had provided support in his will for the amateur aspect of the Music Centre's programs. The Concert Series was reorganized as the Danbury Concert Association, and the volunteer performing groups continued under the auspices of the Danbury Music Centre.
The 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's
Upon the death of John Burnett in 1977, James E. Humphreville assumed the directorship of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra while continuing to conduct the Chorus. Robert Hart Baker was engaged as conductor of the Little Symphony. Richard Brooks, a student of John Burnett's, was named director of the Summer String Program, and Marcia Klebanow began the Summer Children's Chorus. She was succeeded by Margaret Winters in 1992. In 1981, Richard Brooks was also named conductor of the Danbury Little Symphony, which soon thereafter was renamed the Danbury Community Orchestra.
In 1984, Nancy F. Sudik assumed the position of Executive Director and Charles Matz became the conductor of the Danbury Concert Chorus. During the next few years, the Danbury Music Centre grew with the addition of a recital series, a Chamber Orchestra, and a new constituent group, the Danbury Symphonette. Edith Schwab was the first director of the Symphonette, a string ensemble designed for inexperienced string players.
In 1986, the City of Danbury, always a major supporter of the arts, offered the beautiful facilities at the old public library in CityCenter Danbury, to the Danbury Music Centre. In 1993, upon the death of famous contralto Marian Anderson – a member of the Music Centre Board of Directors – Mayor Gene Eriquez, the Common Council, and the Music Centre Board of Directors voted to name the rehearsal/recital hall “The Marian Anderson Recital Hall.”
The 1990s was a time of rapid expansion
The Summer Program also greatly expanded during the 1990s. Steve Chetcuti took over the directorship of the Summer Band Program from Charlie Saunders in 1991 and in 1994, Steel Drum Classes were offered under the direction of Harold Proudfoot.
In 1995, the Symphonette evolved into the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra, directed first by Alex Romanov and beginning in 1999, by Glen Lebetkin, who in 2009, is still its director. Each year, many elementary and intermediate level string students of all ages learn to work under a conductor in preparation for eventual membership in a full orchestra.
In 1995/96, the Danbury Music Centre celebrated its 60th anniversary with programs and observances throughout the year, culminating with a Gala Sixtieth Anniversary Concert on June 1, 1996. In 1997, a very special collaboration took place with the Danbury Opera Company. Under the direction of James Humphreville and Joan and Jim Nolan, a fully staged performance of Bizet's Carmen was presented in May of 1997.
The end of 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium
The late 1990s was the beginning of changes and new opportunities for the Danbury Music Centre. In 1995, after ten years of service, Charles Matz retired and in 1997 Leslie Eckstein was named music director of the Danbury Concert Chorus.
James E. Humphreville, Music Director and Conductor of the Danbury Symphony since 1977, and previously (1966) conductor of the Danbury Concert Chorus and French Horn player (1956) in the DSO, announced his retirement, effective April of 2000. The Board of Directors honored him by naming him Music Director, Emeritus and by establishing the James E. Humphreville Endowment Fund for the Danbury Music Centre. This fund was later renamed the James E. and Ada Humphreville Endowment Fund, upon the death of Ada Humphreville in 2007. Mr. Humphreville continued conducting the annual performances of Messiah and Nutcracker for the next two years. The search for his replacement concluded in June 2002, with the appointment of David Katz. In April of 2001, Leslie Eckstein resigned as Music Director of the Danbury Concert Chorus and the Music Centre named Richard Price to that position in June of 2002.
In June of 2002, Richard Brooks resigned from the Danbury Community Orchestra and Summer Strings Program. Larry Deming immediately assumed the directorship of summer strings and after a search, Stephen Michael Smith was named music director of the Danbury Community Orchestra in January 2004.
In 2001, Steve Chetcuti handed the summer bands’ baton to Albert Montecalvo, who, in 2009, continues to be the music director of that program. In the summer of 2001, Handbell Choir, under the direction of Diane Cooke, became the newest addition and in 2003, Afrikan Drumming replaced both the Handbell Choir and Steel Drums. Ase-AmenRa Kariamu is still directing Afrikan Drumming in 2009. Jonathan Pope was named the director of the Summer Young People’s Chorus in 2001, and in 2009 John LaMendola assumed the responsibilities for this summer chorus.
In 2006, Ariel Rudiakov was named director of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra taking over for David Katz who directed the DSO from 2002 - 2004.
Two very popular performances continue to draw standing room only audiences each December. One is the annual presentation of Handel's Messiah, which began in 1956 under the direction of Jesse Walker. Since 1967 it was directed by James E. Humphreville until Richard Price was appointed music director in 2002. The other is the annual production of the Nutcracker Ballet, first under the direction of Dorothy Burdette in 1967, and beginning in 1997, under the direction of Arthur Fredric and Lisa Denton. The performance in 2008 featured over 220 community dancers and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Ariel Rudiakov.
The Danbury Music Centre will celebrate its 75th anniversary during the 2010/2011-concert season. The celebration is now in the planning stages.
The Danbury Music Centre's programs continue to grow in size and popularity, with more and more people taking advantage of community music making opportunities. There is an optimistic outlook for classical music here in Danbury, as the Music Centre continues to offer musicians a place where they are welcome to rehearse and perform, and where the public is welcome to attend free and low cost performances.
The Danbury Music Centre on Tour
The Danbury Symphony Orchestra and Danbury Concert Chorus have performed by invitation in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia (for the bicentennial celebration of the signing of the United States Constitution), and in 1989 took a two week performance tour to Austria, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The last overseas trip was in May, 2000, when some members of the Danbury Concert Chorus, under the direction of Leslie Eckstein, went to Cuba to sing in the 'First International Chorus Festival of Havana, Cuba.
Support & Get Involved
There are multiple ways to support the Danbury Music Centre.
We are a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization.