SILL’s Music Mondays Presents
A Tribute to the Legendary “Uncle Sam’s Orchestra”
Sarasota’s Church of the Palms and Venice Presbyterian Church
Known as “Uncle Sam’s Orchestra,” the Seventh Army Symphony was formed in 1952 and based in Stuttgart, Germany, for the 10 years of its existence. Two SILL Music Monday presentations, on February 29, will feature Samuel Adler, founder of the orchestra in 1952; Sarasota resident Edward Alley, conductor from 1958-1959; and John Canarina, conductor from 1959-1960.
(Sarasota-Manatee) SILL (Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning) presents a Musical Conversation with three former conductors of the Seventh Army Symphony, during its “Music Mondays” series, February 29, 10:30 a.m., at the Church of the Palms, 8009 15th St E, Sarasota, and 3 p.m., at Venice Presbyterian Church, 111 Firenze Ave E, Venice. June LeBell, the music critic for The Observer Media Group, host of “June LeBell’s Musical Conversations” on WSMR 89.1 FM, and former announcer and host, for 30 years, at WQXR in New York City, will host the morning event. Dr. Joseph Holt, artistic director of Gloria Musicae, director of artist programs for Artist Series Concerts, and principal pianist for the U.S. Army Chorus for 20 years, will host the afternoon session. Tickets are $10 at door and may be purchased at www.sillsarasota.org or by calling 941-365-6404.
In addition, former members of The Seventh Army Symphony will gather for a reunion in Sarasota, February 27-29. More than two dozen former musicians with the legendary orchestra will attend the reunion and one of the Musical Conversations.
Formed in 1952 as a public relations venture, the Seventh Army Symphony was based in Stuttgart, Germany. It was intended to demonstrate to the Europeans, and the Germans in particular, that American soldiers were young men of culture, capable of appreciating and performing the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and other great composers with virtuosity and understanding. The orchestra was extremely successful, touring repeatedly throughout West Germany and West Berlin, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Almost all members of the orchestra were draftees and came from leading conservatories (Juilliard, Curtis, Eastman, Oberlin, etc), universities, and symphony orchestras all over the country. After discharge, they became members of many leading orchestras, including those of Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis. Conductors of the Seventh Army Symphony included Henry Lewis (later New Jersey Symphony, MET Opera), Kenneth Schermerhorn (Milwaukee Symphony, Nashville Symphony), and Edward Alley, a Sarasota resident, who was 22 years old when he won a competitive audition to become the conductor. In spite of the great acclaim and enthusiasm with which it was received throughout Europe, the orchestra never performed in the United States and rarely performed for the military.
“At 80, I’m one of the younger survivors of that great group of guys,” says Edward Alley, whose extensive career in music included almost 200 performances with the Seventh Army Symphony and more than 600 performances with the (Boris) Goldovsky Opera throughout the United States. He was also manager of the New York Philharmonic, associate director of the Juilliard Opera Center, and executive director of the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music. In Sarasota, Alley has served as a trustee of the Sarasota Opera, president of Gloria Musicae, and chair of the TDC grant and policy panels of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. He is currently the board chairman of Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota.
“The orchestra was a very important factor in the rebuilding of relations in Europe after World War II,” says Alley. “We all find it even more remarkable that it never performed in the United States.”
According to Alley, more than 24 former symphony members and their families “are making the trip from all over to get together one more time to talk about those wonderful and crazy days of the orchestra—and attend SILL’s Music Mondays’ tribute. Our last playing reunion was in 2006, and many of us are long past our performing days, even though several are still active playing and teaching. For some of us this might be the last time we meet.” One of Alley’s favorite memories from the time was conducting the Orchestra in three concerts at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.