Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra - A History

By Rosemary O’Connor, founding member

Los Alamos Civic Orchestra

During the war years Los Alamos had no organized instrumental group. The residents satisfied their musical hunger with many string quartets, piano quintets, and other such chamber groups. There was also, at that time, a very fine Jazz band which entertained the community weekly.

From January 1945 through 1946, there was a group formed under the direction of Robert Dike, a french hornist. He also wrote special scores for the instrumentation available. The group was comprised of military and civilian personnel. The funding came from the “Special Services” of the Army and was administered by Captain Hugh Martin. Some of the people who performed in this group under Bob Dike were Al and Diz Graves, Moll Flanders, Eric Jette, Robert Richtmyer, Frank Osvath, Frank Bice, Ken Jeusen, Harold Fishbein, Hermond Lacey and Don Lovelace.

Los Alamos Sinfonietta

The Los Alamos Sinfonietta was first formally organized during the winter of 1947-48. At that time it was called the Los Alamos Civic Orchestra. John Winks was the first director. Rehearsals were held in the music room of the High School, which was at Central School near downtown. From its very inception the Sinfonietta has encouraged the participation of the town’s students in its presentations. It is interesting to note here that at least four of the original orchestra members were students, the names will be familiar - Kay Froman, Polly Richardson, Neva Wheeler and her sister Maribel. Of the adults, there were, until recently, four charter members still active in the Symphony - Elizabeth Graves, Rosemary O’Connor, Arno Roensch, and Walter Weber.

In August of 1948, the Los Alamos Community Council presented H.M.S. Pinafore at the Community Hall (Theatre No. 2). It was produced by the Los Alamos Choral Society and the Little Theatre Group with the Los Alamos Civic Orchestra. The musical director was John Winks with vocal coach Kathleen Manley, stage director John W. Macy, Jr., and accompanist Dorothy Bond.

In late 1948, a new name for the Civic Orchestra was thoughtfully suggested by Bob Dike. “Los Alamos Sinfonietta” was the name offered and subsequently adopted. The members now were entirely of the civilian community. This name truly befits the talents and abilities of this non-professional group. There are some key members who were and are professionals, however.

The Sinfonietta/Symphony has regularly offered two or three concerts per season. Most concerts have presented an instrumental soloist. Some of the early day artists were Robert Richtmyer, Leslie and Marjorie Peck, Kurt Frederic, Louise Spence, and Cerda Evans. The list of conductors includes such familiar names as Harold Weaver, Ernest Kalmus, Kurt Frederick, Frank Pinkerton, Allen Malmberg, and John Ward.

For a few seasons in the era 1947-52, the Sinfonietta was sponsored by the Community Council. From then until 1958, this energetic group of music lovers invested some of their personal monies into a fund to help defray the expenses of producing a concert. In three seasons 1958-61, the Los Alamos County recreation Program sponsored, in part, the Sinfonietta.

In the fall of 1955, there was a quasi-merger with the Santa Fe Symphony under John Hiersoux. This group became known as the Rio Grande Symphony. Difficult travel in winter, especially on the hill road of that time led to the dissolution of that merger. Many Los Alamos musicians play in both Santa Fe Community Orchestra and LASO. Many Santa Fe musicians play in both orchestras as well.

Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra

The Sinfonietta was renamed the “Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra” in 1991. Los Alamos has always had more than its fair share of talented musicians who are eager and willing to volunteer to produce music of their own making. The many students in town have always been welcomed an are encouraged to play with the adults. It gives them an opportunity unmatched in their education.

The Los Alamos Choral Society is a choral group that is one year older than the Symphony. As well as two main concerts and a holiday concert, each year, we have collaborated with the Choral Society in a major work or program designed to fit both groups. Also, each season since 1947, the Sinfonietta/Symphony has provided the orchestral phase of the Light Opera production.