Our History

Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra

The OCSO in the early years.

Our History

The Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra originated in 1963 as the Syracuse Adult Civic Orchestra under the Syracuse City School District’s Adult Education Program. Co-conductors Martin Feldman and William Bishop led it. The group rehearsed at H.W. Smith Middle School and performed in Lincoln Auditorium of Central Technical High School as shown in the December 1966 photo above.

Marty Feldman moved away from Syracuse in January 1969 and the orchestra became inactive for a few months. In June of that year, Walter Bieling led an effort to reorganize the orchestra as the North Syracuse Civic Symphony under the baton of Anthony Harb. John Geisendorfer and Otto Schulze worked on the reorganization and obtained financial support from the North Syracuse Rotary Club. They also obtained use of the Gillette Road Middle School for weekly rehearsals from of the North Syracuse Central School District’s Adult Education Program. They performed two concerts per year.

In May of 1971 the orchestra performed at the Syracuse Masonic Temple as the Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra with Anthony Harb and Elliott Topalian as co-conductors. One year later Anthony Harb and Harold Fredricks co-conducted the orchestra in a spring concert with the Arion Singing Society of Syracuse at Gillette Road Middle School. Tony also conducted a concert with the orchestra and the Village Singers at Gillette Road Middle School in March 1973. Charles Sharp led concerts in December 1973, May 1974 and December 1975.

William Mercer took over as music director in September 1976 and moved rehearsals to Liverpool High School. He led concerts at various venues within the county including the Pleasant Street School in Manlius, West Genesee, J-D and F-M High Schools, LeMoyne College, Syracuse University, Onondaga Community College, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St. John the Evangelist Church and St. Ann’s Church in Manlius. Bill took a six month sabbatical in 1981 and Jeffrey Roudebush, the music director at West Genesee HS led a pair of concerts. Mr. Mercer returned to the podium in September and led the orchestra in a benefit concert for Community Projects and the Burnet Park Zoo at the Onondaga Civic Center. Also on the bill were the Syracuse, Auburn, Rome and Oswego Chapters of SPEBSQAA and the Academy of Dance. In November he conducted a benefit concert for the Children’s Special Needs Fund at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse. Comedian David Brenner headlined the event.

Ron Hebert succeeded Bill in the fall of 1983 and in April 1984 he conducted a combined concert with J-DHS choral director Bonnie Nye and the Fayetteville Manlius Community Chorus at F-M High School. In May he led a concert at the Onondaga County Civic Center featuring the 1983 winners of “The Gifted in Music Scholarships” from Prodigy Incorporated. November 1984 found him joining the orchestra with the Oswego Festival chorus under Leon Carapetyan presenting a concert at the Oswego High School Theater for the Performing Arts. In December classical guitarist and J-DHS graduate David Ziegler joined the orchestra for a concert at J-D High School. In May 1985 Ron returned the orchestra to the Civic Center for the Prodigy Foundation Scholarship Awards, repeating that same program in June at J-D High School. An unusual August concert followed that as part of a music conference at Nazareth College in Rochester. The theme of the conference was Music for your life. In March 1986, six-year-old soloist Patrick Dalton Holmes performed Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A Minor with the orchestra at H.W. Smith School. The next month the orchestra performed in a concert Syracuse Alumnae Ensemble at Syracuse University’s Crouse College Auditorium. Ron continued to lead the orchestra in similarly active schedules through the 1988/1989 season.

Robert Connell, the music director at Cicero,N. Syracuse HS took over conducting duties of the orchestra in the fall of 1989 and joined forces with the Oswego Festival Chorus for a November concert that year. The following March, Kevin Giordano performed Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto with the orchestra at Gillette Road Middle School. Kevin’s father Bob Giordano had been active in the orchestra, playing clarinet. In 1991 Richard Sherman, the orchestra’s concertmaster, performed Dvorak’s Romanza for Violin at Gillette Road Middle School and in March baritone William Cotey performed music by Gounod and Wagner. Concerts with the Oswego Festival chorus followed in November with performances at Gillette Road Middle School and Oswego State Auditorium on consecutive nights. In March 1992 Bob led a concert featuring Saint-Saens Organ Symphony at Andrews Methodist Church in North Syracuse and in May a benefit concert for the Syracuse Symphony Musicians Fund with pianist and OCC professor Kevin Moore at F-M High School. Mr. Connell continued to lead the orchestra in four or five concerts a year, rehearsing at Roxboro Road Middle School until he stepped down in 1997.

Finding itself without a music director in the fall of 1997, the orchestra lined up guest conductors including Juan Francisco LaManna from SUNY Oswego and Nicholas Ross from Liverpool HS to fill the leadership gap. After trial concerts, Mr. Ross was named music director and he led the orchestra for the next three years with Mr. LaManna continuing as guest conductor.

Mr. Ross’s resigned to pursue graduate studies in 2000 and the orchestra again lined up a series of guest conductors to fill the gap. Ubaldo Valli from Ithaca, Jerry Exline from North Syracuse, David Agard from Binghamton and Keith Johnston of Syracuse took turns at the podium with Mr. Johnston finally getting the nod. His tenure was short lived however, since he moved out of town after one concert.

This time the orchestra lined up two of Grant Cooper’s graduate students at Ithaca College to act as guest conductors. William McClain and Erik Kibelsbeck took turns conducting the orchestra and Erik was named music director in 2001. He has held the baton ever since, yielding only once to his friend and fellow Ithacan Cayenna Ponchione as a guest conductor for a pops concert in June 2007. Erik’s energy, musical talent, dedication, cheerful attitude and meticulousness have raised the orchestra’s performance level considerably. His access to talent from the School of Music at Ithaca College has also proven very useful in filling specific concert needs.

While the makeup of the orchestra varies from concert to concert, the longevity of some of its remembers is remarkable. Several current members including Joan Stephenson (shown above) and Frank Mazzotti have been members since the sixties. Kathy Nastasi, Howard Kligerman and Lynn Hamister have been regulars almost as long. Fred Schlereth played with the orchestra years ago, and returned after a long hiatus. William Mercer put away his baton and rejoined as a violist. We hope they all continue for years to come. The survival of this institution for such a long time despite numerous difficulties is testimony to the joy that performing and listening to symphonic music brings to so many people in Central New York.

Orchestra Conductors
William Bishop co 63-69

Martin Feldman co 63-69
Anthony Harb 69-72
Harold Fredericks 72
Robert Woods 72
Rev. Charles E. Sharp 73-75
Elliott Topalian 71, 76
William Mercer 76-83
Jeffrey Roudebush 81
Ron Hebert 83-89
Robert Connell 89-97
Nicholas Ross 97-00
Juan Francisco LaManna, guest 97-00
Ubaldo Valli, guest 99, 00
Jerry M. Exline, guest 00
David Agard, guest 00
Keith Johnston 00
William McClain, guest 01
Erik Kibelsbeck 01-Present
Cayenna Ponchione, guest 07
Travis Newton, guest 15