Mission & History

The mission of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera is to inspire, engage, and enrich the greater Chattanooga community through music and music education.

The Chattanooga Symphony traces its roots to an enterprising group of young people looking for an opportunity to play classical music together. Led by Melvin Margolin, several recent graduates and students from Chattanooga High School, joined by a few adult musicians in town, gave the first concert of the Chattanooga Symphony on November 5, 1933. 

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. 

In 1985, the Chattanooga Symphony and the Chattanooga Opera merged, becoming the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association (CSOA), the first and one of the 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. 


Board Officers 

Don McDowell
Amy Mahone
Vice President
Ed Rusk
Elizabeth Williams
Spencer McCallie
Past President 

Board Members 

Warren Barnett
Katie Byrum
Mitch Carter
Alice Marie Clark Danks

Jo Coke
Katrina Farmer
Bridget J. Gibson
Sam Gowin
William Green
Holly Haynes
Eva Jo Johnson
Lauren Kaywood

Chris Lykins
Todd Maynor
LaFrederick Thirkill
Neil Thomas

Harriett C. Whitaker

Orchestra Committee Representatives 

Doug Warner
Committee Chair 

Amelia Dicks 
Carey Shinbaum 

CSOYO Committee Representatives 

Priscilla Estrada
Committee Chair 

Andre Jubea 

Adminstrative Staff


Susan Caminez
Executive Director

Kaitlyn Vest
Executive Assistant & Bookkeeper 

Marketing & Communications 

Julia Milrod
Director of Marketing & Communications   

Education & Community Engagement 

Harrison Wells
Chattanooga Youth Symphony Interim Manager 

Jennifer Wells
Chattanooga Youth Symphony Rehearsal Manager


Antine Rieger
Director of Development & Communications

Cathy Dreger
Individual Giving Coordinator

Jess James
Development Coordinator


Kathy Allison
Operations Manager 

Bruce Mangan
Stage Manager & Technical Director 

Jessica Smithorn
Orchestra Librarian 

Eric Anderson
Personnel Manager 

Mary Lynn Wilson
Box Office Assistant & Chorus Manager 

Patron Services & Box Office 

Candice Ortenzo
Patron Services Manager 

Mary Lynn Wilson
Box Office Assistant & Chorus Manager 

Jess James
Development Coordinator  


Laura Brooks Rice
Opera Artistic Advisor

Financial Disclosure

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.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera serves to inspire, engage, and enrich the greater Chattanooga community through music and music education. Music continues to be a vehicle to bring our communities together in the ongoing effort to end systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice. We believe that our staff, musicians, and patrons deserve respect and representation inclusive of race, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality, and gender identity. We pledge to center the discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our operations and activities.