History of the Prince George’s Philharmonic
The Philharmonic had its beginnings in Bowie, when, in December 1965, the newborn Prince George’s Civic Orchestra, under the direction of Lloyd Farrar, gave its first concert at the brand new Bowie High School. In May of 1968, the orchestra performed for the dedication of Prince George’s Community College, in the new Queen Anne Fine Arts auditorium which has since then served as one of the principal venues for Philharmonic concerts. At the beginning of the 1969-70 season, the orchestra, renamed the Prince George’s Symphony, gave the first concert under its new conductor Emerson Head, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Maryland. The Symphony presented five to ten concerts each season at many different locations in the County, its principal funding support coming from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).
In 1977, Conductor Head and most members of the orchestra split from the Prince George’s Symphony Board of Directors, and incorporated under the name of Prince George’s Philharmonic. Both the Symphony and the Philharmonic continued performing for several more years, until the Prince George’s Symphony closed its books in 1984.
The Philharmonic has continued to provide music for Prince George’s County since that time. Emerson Head was succeeded, for the 1979-80 season, by Kenneth Kiesler, now director of the University Orchestras at the University of Michigan. Then, at the beginning of the 1980-81season, Ray Fowler became conductor and music director of the Philharmonic, continuing at the helm for just over 20 years. During these years, the Philharmonic developed its outstanding “Symphony Kids” program, which provides instrumental music lessons to young students. In 1994, Charles Ellis became resident conductor of the Philharmonic, and in 2001 he succeeded Maestro Fowler as conductor and music director. Maestro Ellis enlarged the size and repertoire of the orchestra, and initiated the Side-by-Side program whereby selected student instrumentalists from County schools perform with the orchestra in one of the selections in each season’s February concert.
At the beginning of its 2015-16 season, the Philharmonic, under the direction of Charles Ellis, began its celebratory 50th Anniversary season with several specially planned events, including two special recitals by previous soloists, the return of all former conductors in March, and a grand finale reception after the May concert at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The Philharmonic was stunned by the death of Maestro Ellis on New Year’s Day 2016, but finished the 50th season under Resident Conductor Blair Skinner, and has begun the process of selecting a new Music Director/Conductor.
The Prince George’s Philharmonic continues to perform five or six concerts each season - at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and several other venues. Still partially supported by the M-NCPPC, it has grown in the breadth of music that it presents and in its collaboration with talented guest artists and choruses - and has received critical acclaim for its performances. The Philharmonic continues to provide outstanding musical entertainment and education to Prince George’s County and the surrounding areas