History of the Civic Orchestra of New Haven

In 1939, founding conductor Harry Berman conceived the idea of an adult orchestra whose members played not for compensation but for enjoyment. He was able to put together a group of 30 advanced amateur musicians for a first rehearsal in his studio. They began preparations for their first concert, given on April 7, 1941 at Sprague Memorial Hall on the Yale University campus under the name "Philharmonic of New Haven, Connecticut".

In its early years, the orchestra’s repertoire consisted primarily of works by Gilbert and Sullivan, light classical pieces, and traditional compositions by Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. In the 1960s, when Harry Berman stepped down and Gordon Emerson began conducting the orchestra, the group began to include soloists and local choruses as part of its programs.

Civic Orchestra of New Haven performing with The Greater New Haven Community Chorus

Under Emerson’s direction, the orchestra expanded its repertoire to include local, state and world premieres of works by composers such as Carlos Chavez, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, Henry Cowell and others. In addition, the Civic Orchestra of New Haven began offering the opportunity for gifted local artists to perform solos in major works accompanied by the orchestra, and the group’s annual Holiday performance often includes local choruses.

With the start of the 21st century Christopher James Hisey became Music Director. Under his leadership the Orchestra continued its nearly 75-year tradition of offering two annual performances in the heart of downtown New Haven. The programming remained primarily in the classical arena, and Maestro Hisey’s creative direction with the group welcomed collaboration with local composers and soloists.

After Mr. Hisey's retirement as Music Director in 2018 the Civic Orchestra welcomed Kalena Bovell to step up to the podium.

For more information about the Orchestra, please contact us at P.O. Box 2909, New Haven, CT 06515, or by e-mail at conhcivic@gmail.com. If you would like to schedule an audition, please see our Auditions page for further details.