The Butte Symphony Orchestra, the first and oldest in the state, is putting on its “glad rags” this year to celebrate offering Butte and southwest Montana communities 70 years of classical music. The celebration will include four concerts held at the Mother Lode Theater throughout the concert season.
In 1950 Albert F. Kreitinger started the Butte Symphony Orchestra by holding the first rehearsal in his home. Over the years, the symphony rehearsed in various locations, and concerts were held at the Anaconda Employee’s Club on Broadway Street, East Junior High, and Butte High School before finding a permanent home for both rehearsals and concerts at the Mother Lode Theatre.
The symphony orchestra is proud to say that all 55 musicians are volunteers, with a range of ages from 15 to 94. Students, doctors, engineers, teachers, and retirees all love playing their instruments for their own enjoyment as well as for audiences.
In addition to Butte, the symphony draws its members from Whitehall, Twin Bridges, Sheridan, Dillon, Deer Lodge, Polson, and Anaconda.
Of those 70 years, Dr. Luis Millán has been conductor for the last 10.
Concurrently, he is a professor at the University of Montana where he is Orchestra Director/Professor of Music. He also remains active as a classical guitarist.
Since the symphony is made up of all volunteers, he thinks of himself as more than their conductor, he is also a teacher for the musicians. To keep the 35 rehearsals held each year vital, he believes in strengthening the volunteer musician base, critical to the orchestra’s success, by introducing new and interesting composers and pieces.
Harold ‘Pete’ Godtland was among those musicians who first rehearsed in Kreitinger’s home. That evening he arrived with his trumpet. Kreitinger said the organization would need a French horn player, so Godtland switched and has been playing the French horn since. Now recognized as the oldest symphony musician in the state at the age of 94, he will be playing his French horn at the concerts during the 2019/2020 season.
Members of the symphony encourage students to join them and develop their skills. Over the years, many youth who trained in the Butte Symphony went on to universities for a professional career, and others play today in symphonies across the country.
Besides Millán, the symphony has one other employee, and that is Lowell Stuck, who took over the job of Executive Director in September.
“We believe our orchestra is a vital, vibrant, and important piece in what makes our community of only 40,000 strong,” said Stuck. “It takes everyone’s efforts to accomplish this.”
The fund-raising branch of the orchestra is the Symphony Guild, which raises money in several ways. During the winter season, the Guild sponsors a holiday tour of homes. In the spring they hold a geranium sale. Community members also contribute to the endowment, which provides a reliable source of funding for the symphony’s operating budget.
The opening concert for the 2019-2020 season was held on Saturday, October 26, and featured cellist Adam Collins. The holiday concert will be held Saturday, December 14, and will feature both the Butte and Anaconda High School chorales.
People suffering from the winter blues will be invigorated by the third concert on February 22, which will feature classical music accompanying silent movies. The final concert will be on April 11 and will bring unfinished symphonies by Schubert and Borodin to the stage.
The home of the symphony, the Mother Lode Theater, also has a wonderful history. In 1923 the Masons built a six-story Masonic Temple and an adjoining 1,200-seat ornate Temple Theatre where they held their ceremonial services. To develop income during the depression, the Masons converted the Temple Theatre into a movie house and leased it to various operators. Later 20th Century Fox leased the theatre to show movies.
It became the Fox Theater but occasionally was used for live performances. As attendance to movies dwindled in the 1980s, maintenance on the theater also decreased to the point where the theatre needed serious repair. In the 1990s The Fox was important enough to make the theatre a “Project of the Nineties.”
The Masons donated the building to the city, and the city leased the building to the Butte Center for Performing Arts. Upon a complete overhaul, the theatre was named Mother Lode after Butte’s mining heritage.
In addition to the concert season, the symphony hosts a summer of free, outdoor concerts with silent movies and music at the Original Mineyard in Uptown Butte. In February, the it performs a children’s concert at the Mother Lode Theatre, giving 1,100 children from Southwest Montana an opportunity to hear an orchestra live. Its members also share their music in the organization’s outreach program, such as in classrooms and memory care facilities.
Single tickets to upcoming concerts can still be purchased by calling the Mother Lode Theatre ticket office at 406-723-3602 or buttesymphony.org. MSN