Middletown Symphony plays final concert after 75 year-run

The Middletown Symphony Orchestra performed its final concert on Sunday after 75 years of operation, but for some the farewell will be short-lived.

Several members of the Middletown organization have banded together to create the Southwest Ohio Philharmonic (SWOP).

The symphony’s board decided last year that the 2016-17 concert season would be the final one for the organization and conclude with the end of musical programs in May.

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Steve Ifcic, the symphony’s board chairman, told the Journal-News that Sunday’s event was the “grand finale” for the symphony.

“We had planned to go out on a high note, and we felt that is exactly what we did,” Ifcic said. “It was wonderful — we could not have done anything differently.”

The orchestra’s last performance was 75 years to the day when Valda Wilkerson took the baton as the orchestra’s conductor on May 7, 1942, according to Ifcic.

“Carmon DeLeone, the symphony’s conductor, performed the same music from the original date during the first-half of Sunday’s concert. It was great,” Ifcic said. “It was also bittersweet because it was sad we had to do this, but we did it the right way.”

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But the baton was immediately passed to the SWOP group, as symphony members Mike Shaffer, Joanne Shaffer and Renate Thomas stepped up to start the new orchestra.

“A nine-member executive board was formed this past year and began meeting in September to begin the process of incorporation,” Shaffer said. “Much ground work was laid over the next several months, and in December the Philharmonic was founded. At present there are 18 board members making preparations for the launch of the new orchestra.”

DeLeone, who celebrated 35 years with the symphony on Sunday, will serve as SWOP’s first music advisor and will help prepare the orchestra for its first scheduled performance at the annual free Labor Day concert at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Woodside Arboretum in Middletown.

Shaffer said other initial performances include small ensembles from within the orchestra presenting concerts in venues throughout the surrounding communities.

“SWOP’s vision is to touch everyone with music by engaging, educating and transforming local communities through high quality musical experiences,” he explained. “The orchestra’s mission is to accomplish this goal by providing diverse, exceptional and innovative programming including, but not limited to, professional symphonic music.”

He said the choice of name for the new orchestra reflects the desire to reach throughout the southwest Ohio region by presenting live performances within the local communities such as West Chester, Mason, Oxford, Dayton, and other communities in the greater Cincinnati area.

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Paul John Stanbery, musical director and conductor of the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Butler Philharmonic, has been around since 1951. He said he was at Sunday’s grand finale for the Middletown Symphony and is hoping that SWOP is successful.

“Carmon DeLeone is a personal friend of mine, and it was a sad thing to see an orchestra go out after 75 years,” Stanbery said. “He did announce to the crowd that there would be some rebranding. I certainly understand the emotion of wanting to keep something alive. It is so much about fundraising - it is the nitty gritty of what we do. I welcome SWOP to the family of orchestras and wish them success.”

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