The mission of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera is to inspire, engage, and enrich the greater Chattanooga community through music and music education.
Earlier efforts to launch an orchestra at the turn of the century had never taken root, but the young players won the hearts of community leaders and music lovers with their tenacity and talent. Melvin Margolin and his friend Borden Jones led the group in its first four years. By 1938, the group had progressed enough to warrant professional leadership and Dr. Arthur Plettner from Juilliard was engaged to become the conductor for the next 11 years.
At the same time, a remarkable pair of musicians was escaping from Nazi Germany and bringing their expertise with them to Tennessee. Dr. Werner Wolff and his wife Emmy Land Wolff had been fixtures in German opera houses. They founded the Chattanooga Opera Company along with Dorothy Hackett Ward from the University of Chattanooga, mounting a production of Il Trovatore with local singers in February, 1943.
Because of their connections in the opera world, the Wolffs were able to draw internationally known stars to Chattanooga to join with local singers. These stars included Beverly Sills, John Vickers, Norman Triegle and Phyllis Curtin. Guest artists with the Chattanooga Symphony over the years include Isaac Stern, Artur Rubenstein, Oscar Levant and Robert Merrill.
In 1985, the Chattanooga Symphony and the Chattanooga Opera merged, becoming the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association (CSOA), the first and only symphonic and opera organization of its kind in the United States. Vakhtang Jordania served as the Conductor and Artistic Director from 1985 to 1991. A native of the former Soviet Union, Jordania escaped to the West in the 1980’s through conducting.
Maestro Jordania guided the CSOA through a period of growth and transition; the establishment of a core orchestra and the comprehensive blending of classic, romantic and contemporary works. Over the years, the CSOA featured famous guest artists including Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Gary Karr.
In 1992, the CSOA and Chattanooga residents welcomed Maestro Robert Bernhardt as Music Director and Conductor. Under his leadership, the CSOA experienced significant increases in concert attendance, community involvement and musical quality and has emerged as a leading regional orchestra. Under his baton, the CSO hosted famous guest artists such as Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Stella Zambalis and Edgar Meyer.
The CSO celebrated its 75th Anniversary in the 2008-2009 season with a Gala celebration attended by current and former orchestra members, city and state officials, and of course, the many Friends of the CSO.
In 2009, Maestro Bernhardt announced his decision to take on a different role at the CSO, the organization’s first Music Director Emeritus, thus beginning a two year search for the CSO’s next Music Director and Conductor. Nine candidates from across the globe conducted the CSO from 2009-2011, allowing the CSO to display its extraordinary musicianship under each new baton.
Maestro Bernhardt’s final season with the CSO included the release of Black Tie and Bluegrass, a CD featuring Fletcher Bright and the Dismembered Tennesseans and the CSO’s String section.
The 2011-2012 season marked the first for CSO’s new Music Director & Conductor, Kayoko Dan. Music Director Kayoko Dan is the youngest conductor in the CSO’s history, as well as the first female to serve in this role. The 2014-15 Season celebrates 82 years of bringing classical and orchestral music to the greater Chattanooga community.
The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera was the first combined professional resident symphony and opera company in the nation, merging in 1985. Kayoko Dan, Music Director and Conductor, leads the company’s artistic vision and is in her third season with the CSO. Principal Pops Conductor and former Music Director, Bob Bernhardt, is beginning a new role after serving as the CSO’s Music Director and Conductor for 19 seasons.
The CSO has an annual budget of about $2.2 million, managed by a full time administrative staff of seven with part-time staff and volunteer assistance. Our season begins in September and ends in May, and we perform often at the Tivoli Theatre, better known as “The Jewel of the South.” In addition, we perform at the Sheraton Read House, Volkswagen Conference Center, Memorial Auditorium, Coolidge Park, and other area venues. The CSO performs for and collaborates with over 200 community partners each season, including schools, hospitals, libraries, and at local celebrations. To see a map and listing of these partners, download the PDF below.
Spencer McCallie; President
Mark A. Smith; Treasurer
Kim Gavin; Secretary
Susan Elliott Rich; Past President
Dr. Gordon Bietz
George S. Clinton
Mai Bell Hurley
Eva J. Johnson
W. Keith Sanford
Lindsey Ann Waldrep
Katie S. Wilson
Ruth S. Holmberg
William L. Montague, Jr. (deceased)
Contact the CSO Board
423.267.8583 Extension 2103
MOLLY K. SASSE is the Executive Director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. She oversees the production of as many as 15 concerts and opera productions every year. Active in the arts in Chattanooga for over 22 years, she served as executive director of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga from 1987 to 2002. Allied Arts raised over $20 million for the arts in Chattanooga during her tenure.
Molly’s work in the united arts fund movement led to two national awards. She received the Michael Newton Award from Americans for the Arts in 1998, as well as the Arts Administrator of the Year Award, presented by Arts Management News Service and the Kennedy Center in 2000. She was a founding board member of Americans for the Arts, after serving on the steering committee to merge the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies and the American Council for the Arts.
Molly took a five-year break from the arts to serve as Vice President for Development at Siskin Hospital, Tennessee’s only not-for-profit rehabilitation hospital, where she was responsible for all phases of a comprehensive development program.
In October, 2007, Molly became the Acting Executive Director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, after serving on its board of directors for 2 years. Following a national search, she was named Executive Director in April, 2008.
Molly holds a degree in music from Centre College and a Master’s degree in Arts Administration from Indiana University. In her spare time she sings with Choral Arts of Chattanooga, an auditioned group of 32 singers. She is married to Jim Sasse and has two children.
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She holds a Master of Music in Music Education, as well as the Administration and Supervision Endorsement, from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Ms. Allison is a current or former member of International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees-Local#140, Chattanooga Music Teachers Association, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church Handbell Choir, City of Chattanooga Public Arts Committee, and Delta Omicron Music Sorority.
423.267.8583 Extension 2105
Eric has been Principal Bassoonist of the CSO Orchestra and Bassoonist of the CSO Wind Quintet since 1996. He attended the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University for Post Graduate work where he studied with Benjamin Kamins. He has performed with the Florida Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, the Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Hampshire Music Festival. In addition to playing Principal Bassoon with the CSO, he currently plays Third/Contrabassoon with the Alabama Symphony.
423.267.8583 Extension 2101
Tiffany lives in the Chattanooga area. She has three dogs – Tessa, Jessie and Rufus – and her hobbies include instrument repair, traveling and outdoor activities.
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Sarah has been active in the Chattanooga arts community, serving as the founding chair of the Chattanooga Young Artistic Network (CYAN), graduating from the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, and working with the Chattanooga Boys Choir, the Choral Arts Society, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Bach Choir.
Follow Sarah on Twitter-@SGMarz
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As CSO librarian, she is responsible for researching, purchasing or renting music for performances; organizing, distributing, collecting and returning music. In addition, she catalogs and maintains records on all music currently owned by the CSO.
Janet is the flute instructor at Lee University in Cleveland and Covenant College. She also has a private studio of select students and loves the one-on-one experience of working with young flutists. After teaching at UTC and Cadek Conservatory for over 20 years, she has a lot of teaching experience to her credit. Her enthusiasm as a teacher shows in the quality of her students.
Janet is one of the founders of the Chattanooga Area Flute Society, has served on the board of the Local 80 Musicians Union Board, has been head of the CSO Players Committees and works on various committees of the CSO. Janet and her son Adam, a classical guitartist, perform in a duo called “The Mother Sun.”
Over the past thirty-five years, he has taught both bands and orchestras in Texas and Tennessee. Currently, he is the orchestra teacher at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. Gary is proudly beginning his twenty-first year as the music director of the Chattanooga Symphony Youth Orchestras and the conductor of the Chattanooga Youth Symphony.
Gary has professional affiliations with the National Association for Music Education, Tennessee Music Education Association, East Tennessee School Band and Orchestra Association, American String Teacher’s Association, National School Orchestra Association, International Double Reed Society, Tennessee Education Association, Hamilton County Education Association, and the American Federation of Musicians – Local 80. He recently completed a six-year tenure on the Executive Board of Directors with the Tennessee Music Education Association and is also past President of the Tennessee chapter of the American String Teacher’s Association. He also holds membership in the Phi Beta Mu Honorary Band Director’s Fraternity, and was recently honored as one of Tennessee’s outstanding teachers by the Board of the Tennessee Governor’s School of the Arts.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he is Director of Music at First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. He is proud to be a husband to Lisa and Dad to Richard, Michael, Kathryn, Karen and Olivia.
There are currently no job openings for the CSO.
Volunteering with the CSO
The mission of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera is to inspire, engage, and enrich the greater Chattanooga community through music and music education. Volunteers, committed to the success and goals of the CSO, are instrumental in helping to achieve this mission. Volunteers provide invaluable support, time, experience, ideas, and enthusiasm during our regular concert season and during our off season. The CSO recognizes that volunteering should benefit the individual as well as the organization and aims to provide a friendly, inclusive, and musically filled environment.
There are a variety of ways to volunteer at the CSO, not just on concert nights. Volunteers are found in our box office every day, at the front door of the Tivoli, working a registration table at our Film Music Festival, or preparing mailings in our conference room. We are constantly looking for ways to include volunteers in our day-to-day operations, our concerts, and other special and community events. Listed below are regular opportunities to volunteer with the CSO this season.
Volunteers in the box office provide customer service assistance to the Ticket Sales and Services Manager, including greeting patrons, selling tickets over the phone and in person, and answering phone calls. Good computer and customer service skills are needed and training on our ticketing software will be provided.
Volunteers working with the concert box office will assist the Ticket Sales and Services Manager in selling tickets using our ticketing software, passing out will call tickets, and answering patron questions. The ability to handle money and ability to stand for up to 2 hours are needed. Training on our ticketing software and frequently asked patron questions will be provided.
Concert greeters provide a first face on concert nights. They are responsible for greeting and welcoming patrons, checking tickets, setting up program tables, and handing out programs. In addition, concert greeters answer basic questions about seating and accessibility. The ability to stand for approximately an hour is needed as is a personable demeanor.
The CSO has exciting education and community engagement plans for the coming season. Opportunities to volunteer here include serving as an usher for our Young People’s Concerts (February 6, 7, and 10); set-up and staff a small information table at community performances of the ensembles (usually during the day); assist with guest artist engagement opportunities and masterclasses; provide event support for the Chattanooga International Film Music Festival (February 28-March 2), the Conductor’s Workshop (April 5-8), and the Play Along with the CSO (May 11). The ability to stand and the ability to greet and answer questions are needed.
Volunteers with marketing and development activities will generally assist the staff in preparing mailers. Typically, this happens in August, November, and February. Marketing and development staff may also ask volunteers to assist in calling subscribers and donors and thanking them for their support.
Volunteers working with merchandise will staff and sell guest artist CDs and other merchandise at Masterworks and Pops concerts when there is a need. In addition and when necessary, they will assist with guest artist autographs after the performance. The ability to stand for long periods of time and the ability to handle money are needed.
The CSO celebrates its 82nd season this year and has accumulated a variety of concert materials, articles, and other items over its history. Volunteers are needed to assist in scanning, recording, and entering notes about various objects. Time commitment varies. This could be done around your schedule but should be done in the CSO office.
Other opportunities to volunteer may arise during the season. Volunteers will be notified of these through email or phone calls.
To learn more about Volunteering with the CSO, including volunteer policies and procedures, download the CSO Volunteer Manual.
To volunteer with the CSO:
- Download the Volunteer application below and return to Hannah Christian by email, by fax at 423.265.6520, or by mail at 701 Broad Street; Chattanooga, TN 37402
- Complete the online form below.
Download IRS Form 990s
As part of the CSO’s commitment to organizational transparency and effectiveness, we are pleased to make available the following financial disclosure documents and link to our organizational page at GuideStar.org.