Mission & History
The Paducah Symphony Orchestra (PSO) was founded in 1979 when a number of area musicians performed at the city’s Summer Festival. That concert created enough enthusiasm to bring together a small group of “founders” who wanted additional concerts. During the first two years, concerts were planned and performed one at a time, as funds were raised. In succeeding years, seasons have been pre-planned and the number of subscription concerts expanded. Many of these concerts now feature internationally recognized guest artists. Dr. Jordan Tang conducted the Orchestra for the twenty-three seasons from 1987 to 2009. In the spring of 2010, the PSO appointed Raffaele Ponti as its new Artistic Director & Conductor.
The mission of the PSO is to bring the rewards of great music to a growing and diverse regional audience. As the orchestra-in-residence at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, the PSO encompasses a wide range of ensembles, including the PSO Professional Orchestra, an auditioned adult Symphony Chorus, a Youth Orchestra & Sinfonia, a Children’s & Youth Chorus, as well as other Music Education Programs and Services. The Orchestra members, all paid professionals, are drawn from over 30 communities in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama. The audience is even more diverse, representing 61 communities in a five state area.
The Orchestra has grown from performing two concerts in its first season to up to thirteen a season. In addition, small ensembles perform for schools, community and civic organizations each school year. Since their inception, these community engagement programs have served roughly 100,000 people—the majority of whom have been children.
The PSO expanded its educational opportunities in the 1990’s with the addition of a Children’s & Youth Chorus (grades 3 through 12). The young singers, who must audition to be accepted in the group, have twice toured Europe and have sung at a variety of Kentucky locations, including appearances at the Kentucky Music Educators Association Conference and the West Kentucky Thank You Night in Frankfort. The chorus members come from over ten counties in Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois, and perform at least once each season with the PSO.
The PSO also operates a fully auditioned youth orchestra (PSYO) program, as well as a beginning strings (Sinfonia) program. In addition to several stand-alone and run-out performances, the PSYO performs once each season with the PSO at a subscription series concert at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center in Paducah.
In addition to youth programs, the orchestra sponsors a Symphony Chorus. Under the direction of Dr. Bradley Almquist, head of the Choral Department at Murray State University, the adult chorus has gained an international reputation for moving audience members to tears. The group performs at least two programs per season with the Orchestra and also offers a cappella concerts. Dr. Almquist also conducts the Children’s Chorus.
As part of its commitment as a regional orchestra, the PSO has performed throughout the region at a variety of locations including Kentucky Dam Village State Park, Fohs Hall in Marion, Hopkinsville, Marshall County High School, Winchester, Murray, Southeast Missouri State University and Southeast Illinois Community College. The Lower Town Arts & Music Festival in Paducah featured the PSO for the first time in 2013, and the Orchestra has also performed several times for the Paducah Summer Festival, attracting audiences of 10,000 to 12,000 people. In 1994, the Orchestra had the distinction of backing up the Moody Blues band in a concert at Cape Girardeau and for vocalist Amy Grant at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center (2007).
As the scope and quality of the organization’s programs have grown, so has its operating budget. From a $45,000 budget in 1981-82, the Paducah Symphony budget has grown to nearly a million dollars.
For over 30 years, the PSO has served as the premier musical organization serving Western Kentucky and the surrounding region, expanding its appearances through collaborations with community partners and enhancing the area’s cultural reputation. It is most unusual for a city Paducah’s size to have an orchestra, much less a highly successful one.
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