The York River Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1984 with the help of the York County School Board. Since then membership has grown from a small chamber orchestra to that of a full-instrumentation symphony orchestra. The orchestra is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to provide an opportunity for dedicated avocational musicians to perform on a volunteer basis in a first-class musical organization, providing high quality, low cost musical entertainment for our community at large.
The York River Symphony Orchestra, first known as the York River Community Orchestra, began under the umbrella of the Yorktown Arts Foundation, from whom they have received much support. The original reason for forming the orchestra was to give the string students with advanced abilities a challenging opportunity for playing orchestral repertoire along with other members of the community. The York County School System provided rehearsal space and access to a music library at Yorktown Middle School. Newport News Shipbuilding furnished large equipment and percussion instruments. Peggy Hadden, Jean Kirkham, Warren Redhair, Marge Fricke, Marion Bowditch, and Florace Arnold were among the founders who supplied the essential hard work, dedication, and perseverance.
Since its first performance in April 1984, the orchestra has performed at a variety of places, including many schools, churches and outdoor venues. Many YRSO concerts from the late 1990's until 2004 were performed at the Yoder Barn. Since October 2008, the Dr. Mary Christian Auditorium in Templin Hall at the Hampton campus of Thomas Nelson Community College has been home for the orchestra's four regular season concerts. Works performed on previous season concerts since 2005 are listed at the end of the "current season" section of our website www.yrso.org.
Beginning in 2001, the YRSO has sponsored a Young Artist's Concerto Competition each fall for musicians ages 12-21. One or two winners have performed with the orchestra each spring and some have gone on to careers in music. Information about the competition and about winners since 2010 can be found on the "Concerto Competition" section of the website. Winners have included violinists, cellists, pianists, flutists, oboists, a clarinetist, a horn player and singers.
Notable extra performances in the early years included many "Messiah" Sing-alongs, concerts at the US Airbase in Zweibrücken, Germany (1988), the Bicentennial of the US Coastguard (1990) where the orchestra performed the 1812 overture with a real cannon, the Yorktown Tercentenary (1991, the Grand Opening of Riverwalk Landing (2005), the Virginia Air and Space Museum (2007), Spirit of America Festival in Phoebus section of Hampton (2008, '09 and '10), Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, Newport News (2009 & '11), the Maritime Festival in Deltaville, (2010), and Hampton Blackbeard Festival (2011).
More recent extra performances have been held at the Williamsburg Marriott, Williamsburg Library Theater and Kimball Theater in Williamsburg, the Warwick Forest Retirement Center and the Chesapeake in Newport News, the Egyptian Festival at St. George's Coptic Orthodox Church in Hampton (2017 & 2018) and many times at the Watermen's Museum in Yorktown.
The York River Symphony Orchestra currently has about forty performing members, a board of directors, a board of advisors from the professional community, and an orchestra league. During the past thirty-five years, the York River Symphony Orchestra been led the following conductors: Marge Fricke, Jim Paschall, Jim Allison, Edgar Williams, Ann Argodale, Dennis Malfatti, Jim Herbison. A number of guest conductors have also graced its podium. Our current conductors are Eric Reiff and Clint Correll, with Reginald Fox conducting whenever the orchestra is joined by chorus.
The orchestra celebrated its 35th anniversary at the concert on May 19, 2019, honoring 35-year charter member Patsy Shields on stage and founders Florace Arnold and Jean Kirkham in the audience.