As we celebrate MSO's 70th Platinum Anniversary Season in 2020-21, we also cherish our history.
Mary Huntley and the late Ken Gertjejansen, former MSO string players and volunteer MSO historians published four booklets - 60 Shining Years - to celebrate MSO's diamond anniversary. The four booklets are Conductors, Musical Mankato: From Singing Societies to Symphony, Stringed Instrument Education, and Soloists, Composers, and Performers. A fifth booklet is coming soon, Leadership & Management, and will include a timeline.
Much of the following information comes from their first booklet, Conductors.
John R. Dennis
Mankato's Symphony Orchestra became a reality when several key variables clicked together. In the fall of 1949, Mankato and North Mankato school superintendents hired a talented violinist, John Dennis, to develop an orchestra program for the school system. Dennis soon learned there were a few adult string players in the community; these individuals would become the first musicians of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra.
Many newspaper clippings and interviews report the success of the Mankato Symphony in its early years. Often there was standing room only. The first official Mankato Symphony Orchestra concert was held Tuesday, November 6, 1951, at 8:15pm, with nearly 1,100 people in attendance. The Free Press reported the following day, "Easily the best number of the evening was the climactic American Salute by Morton Gould ... John Dennis' conducting was at its best. The orchestra gave the number a rousing performance. The orchestra and director were a perfect team."
John W. Shepard
During Shepard's leadership, a dual-appointment arrangement was established wherein the conductor of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra also held a faculty position in the Department of Music at Mankato State College. During Shepard's time as a conductor, Dr. Clarence L. Crawford was president of Mankato State College, and there was a congenial relationship between the president and the community representatives of the Mankato Symphony. Guy Flanagan, early MSO board president, and President Crawford refined the town-and gown relationship that fostered continued collaboration and support for mutual benefit of the orchestra and college music program.
Rolf C. Scheurer
1959-1968 & 1981-82
While still a teenager, Rolf Scheurer was mentored by Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra Music Conductor, Dmitri Mitropoulos. Mitropoulos recommended Scheurer to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and generously paid him a stipend while he studied composition with Rosario Scalero from 1939-1944.
Upon graduation from Curtis, Scheurer became a Professor of Music at the University of Notre Dame. He left Notre Dame to pursue his doctorate of music from the University of Iowa from 1947-51. Between 1951 and 1955, Scheurer traveled to Italy to continue composition studies with Rosario Scalero, who had retired from Curtis. In addition, he completed a course in conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum. In 1955, Scheurer accepted a position of Professor of Music and Director of Music at Mankato State University. Four years later he became the Mankato Symphony Orchestra'a third conductor.
Kenneth Sanford was 39 years old when he became the Mankato Symphony Orchestra's 4th conductor. He had joined the Mankato State College music faculty the year before, directing the 45-member MSC orchestra and playing in a faculty string quartet.
One goal Sanford set for the orchestra was to expand the personnel to include more players, including music teachers, from the 50-mile radius surrounding Mankato. By his second season, there were 66 players, including professional musicians, college and high school students, and amateurs.
Articles in the Mankato Free Press reported small audiences during the 1968 season. With assistance from the Symphony Guild and Board, Sanford launched a vigorous promotional campaign. Their work paid off; audience numbers in the 1969 season increased to 500.
Several subsequent Free Press articles reviewed the Symphony's growth and development. To Sanford's credit, he directed the orchestra to a "cohesive unit, capable of tackling the most arduous works successfully."
Hermann Herz came to Mankato in September 1970 when he accepted a music faculty position at Mankato State College and became the Mankato Symphony Orchestra's 5th conductor. When Herz arrived in Mankato, Dr. Herbert Owen was chair of the music department at the college and Dr. Andrew Een was President of the Symphony board.
Born and educated in Munich, Germany, Herz, a pianist, graduated from the State Academy of Music. Subsequently, he held positions at the Munich Opera in Bavaria and at the St Gallen Municipal Theater in Switzerland before immigrating to South Africa. Political chaos contributed to his decision to live in Africa, where for eleven years he conducted opera, ballet, symphony, and radio concerts in Johannesburg.
Conductor Hermann Herz's long tenure (1970-1981) with the Mankato Symphony ended with his death at 73 in 1981 during heart surgery. The Mankato Symphony benefited from two interim conductors after Herz passed. The first was Rolf Scheuerer (MSO conductor 1959-68, interim 1981-82). After Dr. Scheurer declined another interim season, Jere Lantz, conductor of the Rochester Symphony, stepped in for the 1982-83 season.
In a 1982 Free Press article, Lantz explained that it is common during a time of transition in leadership to contact another orchestra’s leader for help. Lantz’s wealth of experience and zest for music leadership made him a perfect choice as an interim conductor. His educational background includes Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from Yale. Upon graduation, he became music director of the University of New Hampshire Symphony, associate director of the Minnesota Opera Company, music director of the Midwest Opera Theater and Opera Chorus, and conductor of the St Cloud Civic Orchestra and the Kenwood Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Lantz continues to hold a conducting position at the Rochester Symphony to this day.
In 1983, a rigorous search for a conductor produced more than 100 applicants from thirty-two states and two countries. After phone and in-person interviews, Dianne Pope, along with three other finalists each had a test-run with the orchestra. Harold Paul, chair of the search committee and president of the MSO Board, told Pope that if she was even half as good as her glowing resumé, she "would be a great success".
In 60 Shining Years Booklet 1: Conductors, Mary Huntley and Ken Gertjejanson stated that "For her part, Dianne knew how difficult it would be to get a conducting position. Dianne held degrees from Drake University and Kent State University, but few women at that time were in the field, and jobs were scarce. So she consulted a nationally known resumé expert, who told her that she would have to include 'everything but the kitchen sink' to let people know she could do the job." Her extensive resumé impressed and Pope was soon hired. Her first MSO conducting gig was in front of 3,000 elementary school children. That event marked the beginning also of her commitment to the musical growth of the youth in the area.
Freed's background includes receiving a Master of Music degree from Yale, performing as violist with the Manhattan String Quartet, subbing with the New York Philharmonic, and freelance conducting on the side. In 1998 he auditioned for and was accepted to the Minnesota Orchestra. The journey to Mankato began through a friendship with violinist Peter McGuire, who performs with Freed in the Minnesota Orchestra. McGuire encouraged him to apply for the position of MSO conductor after Dianne Pope retired. In 2006 Freed was selected from more than 100 applicants in 31 states and 9 countries to become the ninth conductor of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra. That same year he was also appointed an assistant conductor to the Minnesota Orchetra by its conductor, Osmo Vänskä.
During his time as MSO's conductor, Freed collaborated with many of Mankato's community groups, including the Mankato Ballet, the Suzuki School of Music, Musicorum, Minnesota Valley Chorale, Prima Vox, and the Mankato Children's Choir. Freed emphasized that "the arts reflect the vitality, both economic and spiritual, of our shared vision and values".