Wilson celebrates 20th anniversary with Springfield Symphony

Springfield Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director Peter Stafford Wilson is celebrating 20 years with the program this season. Contributed photo

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Springfield Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director Peter Stafford Wilson is celebrating 20 years with the program this season. Contributed photo

“I have decided that every concert yet to come with the SSO is going to be an event.”

When it comes to being in harmony, Peter Stafford Wilson and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) have found the right notes.

Wilson is celebrating his 20th year as the SSO’s conductor and music director during the 2021-2022 season, an impressive record considering most conductors last an average seven to 10 years. Many larger cities have seen symphony orchestras become casualties in recent years, but Springfield’s continues strong at the Clark State Performing Arts Center and in the community at the Summer Arts Festival, Springfield Museum of Art and even at diverse locations such as Mother Stewart’s Brewing Co.

“I am as excited now as I was in 2001 when I took the stage at the Kuss (Auditorium) for the first time,” said Wilson. “I am a very lucky man to have enjoyed this relationship for so long.”

It was the SSO’s longevity and history and the community that drew Wilson here initially and not just as a stopping off point.

“With several academic institutions, a well-supported art museum and a vibrant history, Springfield seemed like a wonderful place to make a mark,” he said. “Once here, I found a fine, collegial orchestra, a remarkable concert hall, a board of trustees anxious to take the orchestra to the next level, and a very supportive and generous public.”

Interesting times have bookended Wilson’s tenure, arriving around the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and now working through a pandemic.

Once he was in, Wilson used his many resources to bring programs to the community they hadn’t seen, and established the SSO in different places, and he’s enormously proud of the accomplishments.

The multimedia events that focused on the community’s unique and abundant resources got international attention with the programs “Agriculture and the Arts Growing Together” and “Manufacturing and the Arts.

Local students benefitted from the successful “LinkUP!” collaboration with Carnegie Hall’s education wing, along with creating outreach initiatives including “Mozart in the Museum” at the Museum of Art, “Tunes-n-Tales at the Clark County Public Library, and chamber music events at Mother Stewart’s that have all been very successful in widening the SSO’s impact on the community.

Most recently, the creation of the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra in 2019 has generated an entirely new audience to inspire, he said.

“I was delighted to bring the SSO Chorale back to life after a dormant period, and several of their performances with the orchestra stick out in my mind as highlights in my tenure,” Wilson said. “The orchestra itself continues to evolve artistically. Each time we audition and acquire new talent we continue to raise the level of playing in the ensemble. Also of note is our retention of quality players. Several members have attained 50 years of service during my tenure.”

Wilson said collaborations with internationally acclaimed artists including Andre Watts, Pepe Romero and Hilary Hahn led to memorable performances. The 2010 “Cirque de la Symphonie” performance was a sell-out, and the SSO has been part of creating new works by nationally renowned composers including Mark O’Connor and David Amram, and several regional composers.

Wilson claims the April 2015 Mahler Second Symphony performance as the standout for him.

“Not only was it a thrilling performance, but it featured, most likely, the largest aggregation of musicians ever assembled on the stage of the Kuss, over 300 as I recall,” he said.

Other high marks were “The Carmina Burana” in 2001 that marked the chorale’s return; the “1812 Overture” at the 2018 Summer Arts Festival that included a canon, church bells and fireworks; Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9,” also in 2018; and the multimedia performance of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” in 2012 with visual images, actors and narration.

The 2009-2010 season won an ASCAP/League of American Orchestras Award for Adventurous Programming when a living composer featured on each program of the season.

With a solid foundation with the SSO and its endowment in its strongest position in Wilson’s tenure, it’s another point of pride.

“We took care of the musicians better than most per-service orchestras during the pandemic, and we continue to have an impact on our community in an inspirational way,” said Wilson.

Having the 2019-2020 season cut short due to the lockdown and a premature end to the 2020-2021 season as the pandemic persisted, Wilson has spent the past year planning the latest season. There are four more full SSO concerts and numerous other related shows through May.

That seems to be Wilson’s focus, and as long as the SSO board continually tells him to go for it, it energizes his spirit.

“Let’s face it, there are more concerts behind me than in front of me at this point,” he said. “While I don’t have any specific plans to retire, I have long outlived the typical shelf life for music directors. But I have decided that every concert yet to come with the SSO is going to be an event. Who knows, you may be stuck with me for another 20 years.”

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