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 of 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 1960’s, 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.

Under current Music Director Christopher James Hisey’s direction, the Civic Orchestra of New Haven continues its nearly 75-year tradition of offering two annual performances in the heart of downtown New Haven. The programming is primarily in the classical arena, and Maestro Hisey’s creative direction with the group welcomes collaboration with local composers and soloists.

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.