Neal Gittleman, Artistic Director and Conductor
Founded in 1933, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra has a distinguished place in the Gem City’s history as one of the Miami Valley’s oldest and longest-standing cultural institutions. A regional orchestra with 83 contracted musicians and rich in artistic tradition, the Philharmonic is proud to call the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center its home. The Schuster Center is a world-class, state-of-the-art performance hall that attracts arts aficionados from all corners of Ohio and around the nation. In addition, the Philharmonic also performs at Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Dayton Masonic Center. Since July 1, 2012, the DPO has been part of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance along with Dayton Ballet and Dayton Opera.
Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman inspires each listener’s imagination with his unique programming, in-depth comments, easygoing style and infectious enthusiasm for music. His focus is to make symphonic music readily available, as well as appreciated, by all musical tastes. Under his direction, the Orchestra has received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music nine times. Neal Gittleman will celebrate his 25th season with the DPO in the 2019–2020 concert season.
Gittleman’s mission naturally carries on the dream of the Orchestra’s founding Music Director, Dr. Paul Katz.
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra tradition began in June 1933 when the then-young conductor and violinist, Katz, and his 26 professional area musicians performed Dayton’s very first symphonic concert. They called themselves the Dayton Chamber Orchestra, but from the start, Katz had his musicians performing regular orchestral repertoire he had rescored for the chamber-size ensemble. At the end of the inaugural four-concert season, Daytonians were so enthusiastic that it was obvious another season must be planned. Community volunteers joined together to incorporate the budding nonprofit Dayton Chamber Orchestra Society, in addition to selling subscriptions for the second season.
In April 1934, the Chamber Orchestra Society changed its name to the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. A key contributor to the success of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra was Miriam Rosenthal, an influential businesswoman in the community, who worked side by side with Katz to build his dream. Rosenthal became the Orchestra’s Executive Director during its third season. She remained in that post for three decades until her death in 1965. The financial support, guidance and devotion she brought to the organization marked her tenure. Orchestra historians have singled out Katz and Rosenthal as the two most indispensable and important persons in building the Dayton Philharmonic into the community treasure that it is today.
In November 1934, Katz introduced the first Young People’s Concert to Dayton. The success of these concerts continues today, attracting audiences of more than 8,000 schoolchildren each year. The early Young People’s Concerts spawned what has evolved into a full-scale, award-winning education program that has been an integral part of education in the Miami Valley ever since.
Realizing how much choral music would enhance the Orchestra’s concert programming, in 1935 Katz founded the original all-volunteer Dayton Philharmonic Chorus. Currently, the 140-plus members, who are residents of the Miami Valley, join the Orchestra in concert several times a season to perform some of the most challenging and beautiful choral music. Weekly rehearsals are mandatory for membership and Chorus members attend them with pride.
In 1937, the Dayton Philharmonic Training Orchestra was formed to give young area musicians an opportunity to study challenging orchestral music and to sharpen their cultural awareness and appreciation of music. Another Katz first, the former Training Orchestra later became the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which today is well into its ninth decade with its primary goals unchanged.
Katz was so enthusiastic about satisfying everyone’s musical taste that in 1945, he introduced the first Pops Concerts to Dayton. The new concept in musical entertainment was quick to catch on in the Gem City. At the end of the 1974–1975 season, Katz retired as the Orchestra’s founding Music Director. He had been on the podium for 42 years.
Charles Wendelken-Wilson began his 12-year tenure as the Dayton Philharmonic’s second Music Director in the 1975–1976 season. He continued to bring in world-class guest artists and to fine-tune the musicians’ artistic talents. Under him, the Orchestra grew dramatically, in both innovative programming and in ticket sales. While Katz may have introduced individual pops concerts to the community, Wendelken-Wilson started a subscription Pops series in 1978–1979. He expanded the Pops series to two nights and added a second night to the classical series. His artistic leadership through twelve seasons continued to assure the Dayton Philharmonic’s prominence as it neared its half-century mark.
Isaiah Jackson served as the Orchestra’s third Music Director from 1987 to 1994. Drawing on his experiences as a guest conductor of some of the world’s major orchestras, he introduced subscribers to such programming highlights as Dayton’s first-ever performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand, a true tour de force for the more than one hundred performers on stage.
The Dayton Philharmonic is a fully professional, unionized orchestra comprising musicians who also teach in area high schools and universities and privately. In addition to a full symphony orchestra, the Dayton Philharmonic family includes five chamber ensembles, a professional concert band, a 140-voice all-volunteer Chorus and three youth orchestras.
Over the years, the Orchestra has continued to build upon its outreach programs. In 1998, a historic Concert for Peace joined together the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sarajevo Philharmonic in celebration of the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. The concert symbolized the partnerships of the people of Dayton and Sarajevo in the building of lasting peace in Bosnia. The program had an international flavor, with music by Bosnian, French, German, American and English composers.
Locally the Dayton Philharmonic has joined performance forces with the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, the Wright State University Collegiate Chorale, Central State University Chorus, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Bach Society, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Kettering Children’s Choir, The Human Race Theatre Company, Muse Machine and The Puerto Rican Cultural Society, among many others. Dayton’s public radio stations WDPR/WDPG-FM broadcast all of the Orchestra’s classical concerts and interview many of its guest artists, thus making the Dayton Philharmonic’s programs available to a wide range of Miami Valley residents. In addition, many concert rebroadcasts and simulcasts take place on Discover Classical 88.1 WDPR and 89.9 WDPG. Year after year, the Dayton Philharmonic continues to offer its patrons unique, challenging programming that stimulates and inspires the imagination.