Historical Society exhibit celebrates 50 years of Reno Philharmonic

CARSON CITY, Nevada – On Aug. 3, 1969, 45 musicians under the direction of a Russian-born and Hollywood seasoned composer Gregory Stone put on a free afternoon concert of Gershwin classics at what was then called the Pioneer Theater Auditorium in Reno.

The Reno Philharmonic Orchestra was born.

Over the next half century, it has evolved into a cultural treasure in Northern Nevada with more than 60 professional musicians under the leadership of Music Director Laura Jackson – the fourth conductor in the orchestra’s history – and 25 concert performances each year.

Now the Reno Philharmonic is the subject of the latest major exhibition at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno – “The Biggest Little Orchestra in the World: 50 Years of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra,” debuts Saturday, Aug. 4 and will be in place through March 2, 2019.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Nevada Historical Society, the Reno Philharmonic and Nevada Humanities.

From its humble beginnings, the vision for the Reno Philharmonic has been defined and refined by each of its subsequent conductors –Stone, Ron Daniels, Barry Jekowski and Jackson.

After the first concert in 1969, the orchestra moved to Tuesday night performances when casino showrooms were dark. That way, Stone could draw on the available talents of local showroom musicians. At the time, Reno was a hotbed of musical talent with many of the casino-hotels featuring their own orchestras to back up the headliners. Stone also arranged to have musicians from California supplement the orchestra.

Early concerts included upwards of eight to 10 songs before intermission. Stone wanted to give audience members their money’s worth. His musical choices were largely pops-based, and Stone used his Hollywood connections to bolster support for the fledgling orchestra. He also donated massive amounts of time and money.

In subsequent years, the Philharmonic created special events, including Pops on the River, added a youth orchestra and routinely sells out its annual concert series.

The Reno Philharmonic Orchestra continues to positively impact quality of life in Northern Nevada. It fosters community pride and has encouraged revitalization by consistently drawing crowds to the downtown area. The orchestra promotes understanding of other cultures and provides educational outreach to children across Northern Nevada.

The Nevada Historical Society is located at 1650 N. Virginia St., on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults, free for members and children 17 and younger.