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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Edward Hamilton, Founder of the Worcester County Music Association
Edward Hamilton, Founder of the Worchester County Music Association. Photo courtesy Music Worchester, Inc.

Worcester Music Festival

The United States' oldest music festival, the Worcester Music Festival, began as a four-day music convention in 1858 to improve "the taste of singers and listeners of sacred music" and to increase the "knowledge of works by the great masters." The fall convention was organized by self-taught musician Edward Hamilton, who had been conductor of the Mozart Society, and Hamilton's assistant Benjamin F. Baker, a music teacher and founder of the Boston Music School. In 1889, the nationally renowned conductor, pianist, cellist, Victor Herbert, began a three-year affiliation with the festival as assistant conductor and soloist. In 1893, the world-renowned Czech composer, Anton Dvorak, made his only festival appearance. He "wielded his baton in a vigorous, snappy way."

During the mid-twentieth century, the Worcester Music Festival entered a golden age when Worcester saw performances by the world's greatest vocalists and instrumentalists. Pianist Van Cliburn, fresh from his first triumph at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, performed to an audience of 3,200. Other stars who appeared were Arthur Fiedler, Peter Nero, Birgit Nilsson, Itzhak Perlman, Beverly Sills, Isaac Stern, Joan Sutherland, Andre Watts, Duke Ellington, and Andre Previn. The 1944 festival began a 13-year association with the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. From 1958 to 1974, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra became the resident orchestra. In 1976, the week long music festival was replaced by a season-long concert series format. The festival in 2000 continues its traditional hallmark of musical excellence with distinguished featured artists, who include pianist Krystian Zimerman, the Boys Choir of Harlem, the Festival Orchestra of Poland, and the Russian National Orchestra.

Documentation includes a narrative report, copies of historical documents, a 1999 newsletter, an 1873 program, a 1999/2000 season program, and historic photographs.

Originally submitted by: James P. McGovern, Representative (3rd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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