"To provide live performances of high quality orchestral music, featuring local, regional and internationally known artists, to the broadest possible diverse audience, for the purpose of enhancing the region’s cultural environment, quality of life, and economic development efforts".
In a Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper article on April 27, 1968, Nancy Hymes wrote, “A great deal of “I think I can” has been involved in the growth of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra. Just as the little train in the child’s story struggled uphill and finally gained the summit, so the orchestra [Johnstown Symphony Orchestra] strained its pistons to keep in existence. And the tracks haven’t always been smooth.”
The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra was founded by a group of Johnstown musicians who were eager to share their music with a community hungry for cultural growth. January 1929 – the eve of the Great Depression – was ill-chosen as the time to launch a symphony. Its predecessors – most notably the Cambria [Theater] Symphony and the Cambria Iron Works Orchestra– didn’t survive. However, it did not daunt the spirit of the group under the leadership of Hans Roemer.
By 1932, the Municipal Recreation Commission adopted the group and financed it through the Depression years. Silvio Landino, an Italian by birth became the second conductor of the JSO, with James Hosmer as assistant conductor of the 80-member orchestra.
The baton passed to Professor Theodore Koerner, a Berlin native, in 1935. Mayor-elect Daniel Shields pledged the whole-hearted cooperation of the City of Johnstown. By 1937, the JSO discontinued presenting free concerts. During its 1938-39 season, the JSO broadcast over KDKA radio in Pittsburgh with NBC carrying the program. The JSO was being hailed as “one of the outstanding independent orchestras of the East.”
World War II took its toll on the membership. Russell Gerhart became conductor in 1944, and by the time he left in 1951, the JSO virtually fell apart. In 1953, the group reorganized and Cantor Manfred Kuttner, originally from Frankfurt, Germany, became conductor. A series of guest conductors kept the JSO playing until Donald Johanos was engaged as conductor in 1955. The following year the baton was passed to David McNaughton of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
When Cantor Kuttner resumed leadership in 1958, a symphony chorus, a youth symphony, and a women’s auxiliary were added. As well, the Orchestra performed a series of educational concerts for school children of the area.
Phillip Spurgeon became the first full-time resident conductor in 1961. As the JSO improved in the quality of its performances, Johnstown area businesses and the Johnstown Symphony Auxiliary combined efforts to provide the JSO its financial support.
In 1969, Dr. Michael (Mischa) Semanitzky became music director and for four notable years, the organization grew in all directions. Concentrating on presenting dynamic programs, Dr. Semanitzky soon filled the Cochran Auditorium to capacity. In addition, the choral groups, youth symphony and auxiliaries were expanded.
Dr. Donald Barra became music director in 1973. In addition to the seven concert subscription series, he instituted a “pops” concert presented in May on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. In 1978, the JSO was asked to participate in a Public Broadcasting radio series entitled “America in Concert”, heard in more than 70 major cities throughout the country.
The 1983-84 season again experienced a series of seven guest conductors presenting the subscription series during a search for a new music director. Istvan Jaray was engaged the following season. During his thirty-one years as Music Director, the JSO supported a chamber series in a local refurbished movie theater, repeats of Johnstown concerts in Indiana PA, fully staged musicals, opera festival concerts, free July 4th concerts, Young People’s concerts for area fifth graders, Young Artist competitions, and touring concerts from Everett to Clarion PA and many places in between.
As the 2015-16 "Season of New Faces" opened, the JSO presented six guest conductor candidates vying for the position of Music Director of the JSO after Maestro Jaray decided to step away to pursue more personal activities. James Blachly was chosen to be the 12th Music Director and Conductor of the JSO. The 2016-17 season will begin a "New Era" for the Orchestra and its audience.