La PORTE — With more than three decades of experience leading and managing top-notch orchestras, Rolling Prairie’s Tim King knows a thing or two about music.

So, after moving to La Porte County in 2013, he was a bit skeptical when Leigh and Marcia Morris invited him to a performance of the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra.

“The very first thing on my mind was, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m about to hear a really bad high school band',” King recalled.

The orchestra’s exceptional musical talents defied his meager expectations, however, instantly turning him from a doubter to a believer. 

The fact La Porte County – with a population a fraction the size of metropolises where most orchestras reside – hosts such a group is one reason King got involved with the LCSO, he said.

Now on his second stint as the orchestra’s executive director, he's making it a priority to see that others fall in love with the group’s sound, just as he did six years ago.

“An orchestra in any community should be considered the crown jewel of the arts, whether it be Chicago or La Porte,” King said. “However ... I can tell you that I have not felt that the community feels that way all the time about the LCSO.”

With Saturday marking the beginning of the orchestra’s 47th season, it's the perfect time for the uninitiated to hear what they’ve been missing, King said. 

He discussed this weekend’s debut and the history of the organization with the Rotary Club of La Porte this week. Rotarian Leigh Morris – chair of the LCSO Board of Directors – invited the director to speak.

A native of Kentucky, King enjoyed a 32-year career in fine arts administration in his home state, including a five-year stint as executive director of the Louisville Orchestra before moving to La Porte County.

While he intended to retire after moving north, King instead accepted a position as the LCSO’s executive director in 2015, serving a nine-month stint. He returned to lead the organization in December 2018, and intends to stay on at least until the orchestra finishes its search for a new music director, he said.

The LCSO – initially comprised solely of volunteer musicians – performed its first concert in 1972, operating on a $3,000 budget. 

Today, the orchestra has a roster of 60 paid musicians from seven counties, with an annual budget of more than $300,000, King said. While significantly more expensive to operate, the LCSO’s ledger is still incredibly small in the orchestra world – the Chicago Symphony Orchestra requires $100 million per year to run, King said.

“The LCSO’s musicians ... play way above their pay grade,” the director said. “We have musicians who play just for the sheer love of it because we certainly can’t afford to pay them what they’re worth.”

The orchestra is currently in the midst of a two-year-long search for a new music director to replace Philip Bauman, who resigned in 2018 after 24 years at the conductor’s podium. 

This past season, three of the six finalists – Russell Ger, Maria Diaz Garcia and Alexander Platt – got a chance to lead the orchestra. The trio conducted separate subscription series concerts at the La Porte Civic Auditorium, with LCSO leaders and audiences evaluating their performance.

For the upcoming 2019-20 season, the last three candidates will get their shot:

• For Saturday’s opening performance at the La Porte Civic Auditorium, Carolyn Watson of Kansas will lead the orchestra through a program titled “Dance!/Veteran’s Tribute.” The concert will include pieces by Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, as well as performances of “America, the Beautiful” and “The Armed Forces Salute.”

• For the March 15 show at Michigan City’s Holdcraft Performing Arts Center, Indiana’s Wilbur Lin will serve as maestro. The group will perform Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday, as well as yet-to-be-determined pieces.

• During LCSO’s April 25 concert in La Porte, Michigan’s Christopher Fashun will take the podium and lead the orchestra through selections from “The Great American Song Book.” Veteran Broadway performer Doug LaBrecque, a friend of Fashun, will lend his vocal talents to the show.

With each of the conductors possessing a wealth of talent and education, audiences should be in for quite an experience, King said.

“The music director search has had a very, very positive effect on our orchestra,” King said. “They’ve stepped up [performances] quite a bit.”

These performances are just a few of the appearances LCSO has on its calendar this coming season, however.

Next fall, the orchestra will also host its 15th rendition of its popular Hoosier Star event. 

Every year, local singers perform withe the orchestra during the American Idol-style competition. A panel of judges, along with an audience vote, determine the top vocalists, who receive cash prizes.

Michigan City’s Joe Stewart and Chesterton High School student Rebecca Lane took home the top spots this year.

“We are still finding amazing talent,” King said of the competition. “This year’s talent was as good as I’ve heard anywhere.”

LCSO also hosts an annual children’s concert. Started 31 years ago, the event allows thousands of students from across the region to experience the power of live orchestral music, King said.

Several Rotarians shared testimonies of their own about the impact the orchestra’s music has had on them.

Brett Binversie, director of the La Porte Civic, said he was blown away the first time he attended an LCSO concert just before he took over at the auditorium five years ago.

“You just would not think that a community our size is going to have a symphony this good,” Binversie said.

To learn more about the upcoming season, call 219-362-9020 or visit lcso.net.

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