An Orchestra is Formed in Charlotte

The inspiring and unique story of the founding of the Charlotte Symphony

By Charlotte Symphony

Guillermo de Roxlo, Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

In 1931, Spanish conductor/composer Guillermo de Roxlo and his wife, Kitty, and son, William, emigrated from Cuba to Charlotte with the help of a local family, who hosted the de Roxlos in their basement.

Guillermo de Roxlo Playing Violin (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

Guillermo began teaching violin but had dreams of starting a Symphony Orchestra in his new hometown.

Charlotte Observer Article On Guillermo de Roxlo's First Visit to Charlotte, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, 20th Century, From the collection of: Charlotte Symphony
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Charlotte Observer Article on Cuba Conditions, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, 20th Century, From the collection of: Charlotte Symphony
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Carolina Theater (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

On March 20, 1932, 57 local musicians gathered on stage for the inaugural concert of the Charlotte Symphony. The skies were cloudy on that Palm Sunday afternoon as hundreds of Charlotteans poured into the Carolina Theatre on Tryon Street to survey the new orchestra. The free concert was sponsored by the Charlotte Parks and Recreation Commission.

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Pre-Founding (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The musicians on stage had answered an invitation in the newspaper, taken out by de Roxlo himself, inviting anyone interested in starting an orchestra to meet at Central High School. Rehearsals had begun in December for the group, which comprised nearly 50% women – a rarity in that time!

The Charlotte News, "Orchestra is Formed Here" (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The program opened with Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Debussy’s Reverie, Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin, and selections from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. The grand finale was the premiere of de Roxlo’s own Symphony in F.

Guillermo de Roxlo's Symphony in F Score (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The Symphony had no budget for copying music, so Maestro de Roxlo hand-wrote all of the parts himself. Here is the original score and the individual parts for de Roxlo’s Symphony in F, which were on the stands during that first concert in 1932. 

Guillermo de Roxlo's Symphony in F Scorebook 1 (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

First Charlotte Symphony Program, Page 2 (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The brand-new symphony was “received with enthusiasm” according to Hazel Mizelle’s review for The Charlotte Observer the following day. The Charlotte News proclaimed a “new era of musical life In Charlotte is believed to have been started.”

First Charlotte Symphony Review in the Charlotte News, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, 20th Century, From the collection of: Charlotte Symphony
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First Charlotte Symphony Review in the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, 20th Century, From the collection of: Charlotte Symphony
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That first season, the Charlotte Symphony had a budget of $60. Neither de Roxlo nor the musicians were paid. At that time, the population of Charlotte was 82,675 and the average income was $874 per year. A copy of The Charlotte Observer cost 10 cents on Sundays and an upright piano went for around $80.

Tryon Street in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1930s (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

Looking north from South Tryon and First Streets in the mid-1930’s.

Charlotte Symphony in the Charlotte Observer (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The CSO closed out that first season with its third public concert, this one held in the amphitheater in Independence Park, the oldest public park in Charlotte. It was the first orchestral performance ever given in the open-air theater.

J. Spencer Bell (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

The next few seasons saw a move to the 500-seat Alexander Graham Junior High School Auditorium, and the CSO formed its first board. J. Spencer Bell, Principal Flutist and local attorney, was named President. He would later go on to become a State Senator and was nominated by President John F. Kennedy to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Founding Orchestra (20th Century) by Charlotte Symphony OrchestraCharlotte Symphony

With those first tentative seasons under its belt, the Charlotte Symphony would begin to grow exponentially. The Orchestra that began as a dream for Guillermo de Roxlo, has grown into a fixture of the arts and culture scene in Charlotte; one that has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Charlotteans and visitors for nearly a century.

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