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100 years

In the United States, perhaps a couple of dozen orchestras have observed 100-year anniversaries. In 2008-2009, the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra will join that elite group.

In the United States, perhaps a couple of dozen orchestras have observed 100-year anniversaries. In 2008-2009, the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra will join that elite group.

"It occurred to me -- Gee, this seems like a big deal," said Phil McKenzie, co-principal oboist for the orchestra and president of its board, who checked the number with the League of American Orchestras.

"It was probably 20 to 30 orchestras," he said.

To celebrate, GGFSO has planned a Centennial Season that will feature guest artists such as:

n Soprano Korliss Uecker, a North Dakota native and UND graduate who studied at The Juilliard School. A frequent presence on the stage of New York City's Metropolitan Opera, Uecker was described by The Financial Times of London as "charming and crystalline of voice and sparkling as an actress."

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n Soprano Tammy

Hensrud, also a UND grad who last performed in Grand Forks in "Amahl and the Night Visitors" in December 2005. Hensrud has appeared in opera houses throughout Europe and the U.S.; she is an adjunct professor of voice at Hofstra University.

n Tenor William Saetre, a Thief River Falls native who studied at San Francisco Conservatory of Music and now lives in Hamburg, Germany. He's sung at major houses in Europe and the U.S. This summer he returned to his hometown to star in and direct the musical "Anything Goes."

Bringing people here who have a connection to the orchestra and the area is another validation of the symphony's value to the community and its musicians, McKenzie said.

"You can come from Grand Forks or Hettinger (N.D.) or Thief River Falls, and have an international career," he said. "Intuition wouldn't tell you we'd have great opera singers coming out of this area. Hockey players, maybe, but not opera singers."

The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra will present nine concerts in 2008-2009, on Sept. 27, Nov. 15-16, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, March 7-8 and May 2-3. All performances will be in Grand Forks except the one Feb. 1, which will be in Thief River Falls.

The five programs will include music that the symphony performed 100 years ago during its first season, including Mendelssohn's Intermezzo from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite." (See related story on this page.)

"We wanted to pay tribute to the past while setting the stage for a healthy future," McKenzie said. "So, as far as repertoire is concerned, we made a point of looking back to play some pieces that were played in the inaugural season."

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The symphony also has announced that its music director, James Hannon, will be moving to Japan this fall. (See related story.) Hannon will direct GGFSO for its Sept. 27 concert and is expected to participate in the season in other ways that are still being worked out, McKenzie said.

Except for some years around World War II, when the organization continued but performances were suspended, the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra has played for 100 years.

"To reach 100 reflects a commitment on a community to keep culture at its core," said McKenzie, who is vice president of business systems at Digi-Key Corp. of Thief River Falls.

Ted Jelliff of Grand Forks is writing and compiling a history of the symphony, which has had a long and successful relationship with UND, which provides the symphony space and other support.

Many in the community, including McKenzie, have history with GGFSO. McKenzie, who grew up in Crookston, first played with the symphony in 1974, when he was a senior in high school, as a substitute for a performance of Handel's "Messiah." As a result, he became aware of the UND music department, and attended and graduated from UND.

After leaving the area, McKenzie returned to Thief River Falls in 2004 and, a year later, much as he'd first come to play with the symphony 30 years earlier, he was asked to sub for another musician. He later joined the orchestra full time.

A symphony orchestra is important to a community's culture and as a sign of its economic health. Not every town has the commitment or wherewithal to support a symphony, much less for 100 years. It sends a clear message to businesses and people who are considering a move to Grand Forks.

"It's a piece of the picture that says from sports to good education to culture, I am able to come here and give my family all the opportunities they would have anywhere," he said.

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Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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