History and Annual Report
The Racine Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest symphony orchestras in Wisconsin, in continuous operation since its founding, was established in 1932 by Frederick Schulte (1891-1966), a composer, conductor, and bandmaster who taught in the Racine public schools for 36 years. He served as its first conductor for 25 years.
In the early years, the Orchestra played four annual concerts per year at the Main Street Theater. The board was elected from among the players, who selected the music and the guest artists, sold the tickets and the advertising in the programs, and solicited donations.
The name Racine Symphony Orchestra was adopted in 1935. The Orchestra membership was entirely male until 1938, when the board allowed “women musicians into the Orchestra, if necessary.” A constitution and by-laws were adopted in 1936, and incorporation as a non-profit organization followed in 1938. The RSO was a charter member of the American Symphony Orchestra League in 1942 and later joined the Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra League. In 1967, the RSO joined the newly organized Racine Arts Council. In 1960 the Board was expanded to 15 members, with the majority being non-musicians, although the by-laws at the time stated that not less than four members must be active playing members of the Orchestra. In 1964, the Symphony Guild was established to promote the interests of the Racine Symphony Orchestra.
Dudley Powers was hired as the RSO’s second Conductor in 1958 and Stephen Colburn followed him as the Orchestra’s third Conductor in 1976. Roberta Crawford was Assistant Conductor from 1983 until 1989. In the fall of 1989 David Becker became Music Director and Conductor of the RSO. Alexander Platt joined the Orchestra as Music Director and Conductor in 1993. The sixth and seventh conductors to lead the Orchestra were Andrew Massey and Richard Carsey, respectively. Massey began his career with the RSO in 2006. Massey was the Music Director and Conductor for the Symphony’s classical and Holiday Pops concerts. Richard Carsey joined Massey in 2006 as the Artistic Director and Conductor for the Summer Pops concerts.
Pasquale Laurino, the RSO’s current Artistic Director and Conductor, has celebrated over 30 years of conducting and playing music throughout the Midwest. Laurino conducted the world premiere of the Milwaukee Ballet’s critically acclaimed Peter Pan and Skylight Theatre’s performance of Cosi’ fan Tutte. Born in Brooklyn, NY and trained as a violinist and conductor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University, Laurino begins his eighth year conducting the Orchestra in the 2017-18 season.
With an annual grant of $1500 from the Western Foundation for several years beginning in 1952, the Orchestra gave scholarships for private lessons to local high school students, and later local adults, on the condition that they would play in the Orchestra. The Junior League of Racine helped establish an annual concert for all the fifth graders in the Racine Unified School District in the early 60’s. The 55th anniversary of the Concerts for Fifth Grade Students was celebrated in March of 2017. Auditions were held to select a student soloist to perform with the Orchestra at these Concerts – this was the first permutation of our Young Artists’ Competition. Current Principal Horn Erwin Lackner won that honor in 1963. From 1995 to 2009 concerts were also performed countywide for third grade students.
The concerts were moved to Memorial Hall in 1938 and have since been held at sites throughout Racine, Kenosha and even Milwaukee counties. Concert space has been found at schools, colleges, churches, historical locations and cultural attractions. In the summer of 1988, the Orchestra inaugurated its Lakeside Pops series at the new Festival Hall on Racine’s lakefront.
Since its establishment, over 400 concerts have been held by the Racine Symphony Orchestra. In 1932 there were just two concerts; some seasons there have been as many as eleven. In recent years the RSO has performed between five and six per year. The RSO’s Masterworks series was initiated in 1991. The Orchestra’s 2016-17 Season consisted of two Masterworks concerts, three pops concerts and seven educational programs.
Our continually evolving music education programs reach and teach “students” from preschool through senior citizens. In totality, these programs reach more than 2300 eager learners each year; that number continues to grow. (For more information on our music education programs please read the “RSO Educational Outreach” section in this booklet.)
Correlating with prevalent economic conditions, over the past decade and a half the Orchestra has seen its ups and downs. Currently the RSO operates with a dedicated volunteer Board as well as paid staff and musicians. Relying on several diverse income streams, the RSO is financially stable and operates under multi-year organizational strategic plans. The RSO pledges to continue to bring outstanding Masterworks and Pops performances and a diverse menu of music education opportunities throughout Racine County while executing a responsible and sustainable budget.
Written by Ellen Schmidt
Revised and Updated by RSO Staff – May 2017