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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Community symphony orchestras became popular in the United States in the post–World War I era of economic prosperity. The original Tulsa Philharmonic grew out of a small group called the Tulsa Civic Symphony created in 1926–27 by Kurt Berger, a German-born and -educated musician living in Tulsa. Many of the symphony's musicians also played in the pit orchestra for the Tulsa Little Theatre. After its premier concert at the Akdar Theater as the Tulsa Civic Symphony in January 1927, the small orchestra was directed by Berger until illness forced him to retire in 1933. His daughter, Tosca Berger Kramer, briefly succeeded him. George Baum also directed an orchestra under Works Progress Administration funding in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Tulsa Philharmonic was founded in 1947–48 when the chamber of commerce and a local citizens' committee, including Burch Mayo and Herbert Gussman, organized socially prominent Tulsans as a support group for the Tulsa Civic Symphony. That summer of 1948 the Tulsa Philharmonic Society, Inc., arranged four summer concerts at Skelly Stadium and a winter concert series. An auxiliary group also formed. In June 1948 the first summer concert was performed, and on November 1, 1948, the first winter concert presented a guest artist, Polish pianist Maryla Jonas. The new, seventy-six-piece group premiered under the direction of H. Arthur Brown, conductor of the symphony of El Paso, Texas, who served Tulsa's group as part-time conductor. Brown became full-time resident conductor for the 1949–50 season, and he served through the 1958 season. He created a pops series and children's concerts.

Music directors-conductors of the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra included nationally and internationally prominent individuals. Vladimir Golschmann (1958–61) secured guest artists of the stature of pianist Van Cliburn. In April 1963 the Youth Orchestra (now the Tulsa Youth Symphony) debuted; its eighty-five members had their own conductor. Next came Franco Autori (1961–71), under whose direction the orchestra captured the American Society of Composers, Authors and Performers' (ASCAP) Metropolitan Orchestra Award. Skitch Henderson (1971–74) bolstered the society's finances by presenting popular-music guest artists. Thomas Lewis (1974–77), who became music director and general manager, presided over the 1977 opening of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Murry Sidlin (musical director, 1978–80) presided over the group's first season as a full-time, professional orchestra. Following were Joel Lazar (resident conductor, 1980–83), Bernard Rubenstein (1984–96), and Kenneth Jean (1997–2001). From the 1983–84 season, and for a total of eleven years, Peter Nero served as the Pops Music Director and brought national acclaim.

Financial difficulties plagued the orchestra during the 1980s and 1990s, forcing a reorganization in 1994. Rebuilding efforts continued, only to find the Philharmonic again in disarray and forced to cancel its 2002–03 season. The demise of the Tulsa Philharmonic was part of a national pattern of changing attitudes toward the support of and appreciation for community orchestras at the end of twentieth century.

Dianna Everett


Janet Geister, "Tulsa Builds the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra," Magazine Tulsa (December 1948–January–February 1949).

"Tulsa Philarmonic Orchestra," Vertical File, Tulsa City-County Library, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

James D. Watts, Jr., "Saving the Philharmonic," Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 26 January 2003.

James D. Watts, Jr., "Tulsa Philharmonic 50," Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 6 September 1998.

Scott Wigton, "The Day the Music Died," TulsaPeople (February 2003).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TU012.

Published January 15, 2010

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