One hundred years ago, 13 men and six women – musicians who had performed with the  Newark Symphony Orchestra, the Haydn Orchestra of Orange and the Lewellyn Ensemble of Montclair – gathered at the Montclair Art Museum to present a concert with conductor Philip James, then the organist and music director at Montclair’s St. Luke’s Church. That concert is now celebrated as the first in the history of the New Jersey Symphony.

The orchestra’s formative years were made possible by a group of committed musicians and music lovers, with cellist and businessman Russell Kingman guiding them and bringing in significant support from prominent citizens in and around Montclair, among them William Dickson, Louis Bamberger, Hendon Chubb, Sidney Colgate and Mrs. Thomas Edison.

Audiences grew quickly as the orchestra increased its presence in Essex County. Regular concerts were presented at Montclair High School and the Mt. Hebron School, and in its 30th anniversary season its first outdoor concert was heard at the Studer home on Prospect Avenue in Montclair, with soprano Beverly Sills and conductor Samuel Antek. By the 1960s, under conductor Henry Lewis, the orchestra had expanded to become a true state orchestra, and also gave critically acclaimed concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and beyond. Thousands of concerts have been heard since then, and this coming Nov. 12, the orchestra will present its official centennial celebration concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, with Music Director Xian Zhang conducting and Yo-Yo Ma as guest soloist.

I join the many music lovers and supporters in Montclair in wishing the New Jersey Symphony a fabulous second century!

Helen S. Paxton