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Our Mission

Transforming Lives Through Music

Our vision is to be a destination orchestra dedicated to harnessing live music’s transformational power to foster creativity, promote joy and unite our community.

We embrace the responsibility to be a dynamic and vibrant part of southwest Michigan by offering innovative programming, broader venues and increased educational opportunities, while balancing artistic growth with financial soundness.

The SMSO has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of our community since 1951. We strive to cultivate and inspire a diverse audience through professional musical experiences. Your participation and support is vital to our mission.

Our History

In 1950, a few far-sighted community leaders had a courageous vision that the twin cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor could create and sustain a symphony orchestra. With that as his goal, Carl Anton Wirth, the Symphony’s first conductor, assembled an orchestra the same year under the auspices of the St. Joseph School Corporation to accompany an annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. The formal incorporation of the Twin City Symphonic Society took place in April 1951.

Comprised of talented local amateurs and a few professional musicians, the Symphony performed four concerts each season to small but appreciative audiences. The second music director, Harold Newton, introduced children’s concerts during the 1956 season. Since then, over 150,000 students have attended children’s and “in-school” concerts.

In 1962, conductor and violin soloist, Hendrik de Blij became the music director. In 1974, he was succeeded by Dr. Robert Vodnoy. A few years later, the Twin Cities Symphony became the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra, reflecting its broader geographic appeal.

Over the years, the Orchestra has continued to expand its audience and attract new, highly talented professional musicians from the tri-state area. “Pops” and other specialty concerts have been incorporated into the regular season, attracting a new and broader audience. Internationally known artists, as well as talented, local artists appear regularly with the orchestra.

Music education, particularly for young people, has become a major focal point for the Orchestra. The Lake Michigan Youth Orchestra was officially organized in 1978 and performs three concerts annually, as well as a Side-by-Side concert with the SMSO. The Orchestra has also started a Music Makers program at the Boys & Girls Club in Benton Harbor. In addition the orchestra offers the “Musicians-in-Schools” program and Master Classes. For adults, the Symphony hosts the very popular Pre-concert Conversations with the Maestro on concert nights at the Mainstage Series.

In recent years, summer concerts have been introduced with performances at the Shadowland Pavilion, Jean Klock Park, New Buffalo Lion’s Pavilion Park and the Heritage Center. This year, the Symphony will perform or sponsor more than fifteen concerts in various venues in our area, including the Mainstage Series, the Water’s Edge Summer Beach Series and the Casual Classics Series. These concerts provide a diversified mix of live classic and popular music as well as unique performance venues for an ever-expanding audience. In 2006, Maestro Robin Fountain became the Symphony’s fifth Music Director. Under his leadership, the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra is quickly becoming the premier orchestra in the region.