A Musical Legacy

Plymouth Philharmonic Celebrates 100 Years

By Ann Luongo // Photography by Denise Maccaferri

For over 100 years, the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra has been a cultural giant in Plymouth and the surrounding communities. Its inaugural concert, held in December of 1913, was conducted by piano tuner and violin instructor G. Herbert Clarke and was made up of amateur musicians who came together to hold the orchestra’s first-ever professional performance.

Clarke, his musicians, and the appreciative audience who came out to attend that free Sunday concert at the Plymouth High School auditorium could have had no idea at the time that the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra (or “the Phil,” as it’s locally known) would, a century later, continue to thrive in its mission to deliver high-caliber orchestral music to the South Shore communities.

“It’s not just about going to a concert,” says Steven Karidoyanes, who has been the conductor of the Plymouth Philharmonic for the past 22 years. “It’s about audience engagement.”

The Phil runs various programs aimed at connecting with members of the community, especially young people. The orchestra hosts a family concert each year and maintains a close partnership with music teachers in the Plymouth Public Schools.

The Music Immersion Program, which started about 22 years ago, is offered to third, fourth and fifth graders in all the Plymouth public schools and aims to help expose students to orchestral music from a young age. Small ensembles of musicians visit local schools to talk about the different kinds of instruments. The program culminates with a concert at Memorial Hall.

“We have two concerts on one day so that all the kids can attend,” says Kim Corben, the orchestra’s executive director and a Plymouth resident for 25 years. “Offering this program every three years means that every child that goes through the school system is able to experience the program.” Similarly, a program called “Take 5” engages students (usually during morning announcements or homeroom) by having them listen to five minutes of orchestral music, five days a week for five years. “I defy anybody to find an orchestra with twice our budget that offers what we do,” says Karidoyanes.

A Boston native with an infectious passion for music, Karidoyanes is the longest-serving conductor in the orchestra’s history, but he’s not a man to rest on his laurels. Instead, he’s constantly looking for ways to challenge his musicians and improve concert experiences.

“When I’m programming our concerts I’m programming for our audiences,” says Karidoyanes. “I make sure that everything we play reaches listeners at their core.”

The orchestra is made up of professionally trained musicians who come from a variety of backgrounds but who each bring world-class level precision, musical skill and dedication. Karidoyanes’ own musical background is also impressive and varied. He is a composer as well as a conductor. In 2000, Karidoyanes composed a piece called Café Neon: Fantasy on Greek Songs and Dances. Dedicated to his parents, the music was performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He also recently celebrated his 10th year conducting the New England Conservatory Youth Symphony, which has toured all over the world.

The Phil recently marked its 100th season and a longtime supporter of the orchestra, Judy Fosdick, wrote a commemorative book called “100 Seasons, The Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra 1913-2015.” “I can’t imagine a life not filled with music,” says Fosdick. “Although I grew up in a musical family, I realized as an adult that not everyone has had the pleasure of having music in their lives and joining the Phil board in 1992 gave me the opportunity to help sustain the orchestra and bring fine music to the region.”

The future of the Plymouth Philharmonic Orchestra, as with any other cultural or arts-centered entities, depends on the generosity of its supporters and donors. “It’s hugely expensive to do the things we do, and the only way it works is if well-meaning neighbors collectively put their money where their mouths are,” says Karidoyanes, who makes a point to thank donors and tell them how their money is making a difference. Thanks to the support of corporate and private donors, the orchestra has managed to keep ticket prices down.

“We must make sure everyone who wishes to come to hear this great music can overcome any barriers in their way,” says Karidoyanes. “I believe that music can make a difference to the community and my goal is choose pieces of music that grab people’s attention and make them come back.”

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