The Chappaqua Orchestra has served Northern Westchester since 1959. Now under the baton of Michael Shapiro, the orchestra plays diverse and challenging programs and has grown into a sophisticated ensemble of professional level artists.
Many notable artists have been associated with TCO over the years, including Joseph Fuchs, Julius Baker, Chee Yun, Allison Eldredge, Ruth Laredo, Eugenia Zukerman, Leslie Parnas, Andrew Litton, Lucie Arnaz, Vanessa Williams, Jerome Rose, Edward Arron, and Timothy Fain.
TCO began as the Chappaqua Chamber Orchestra and was founded by a small group of musicians and music lovers, among them Dr. Boris Koutzen, the distinguished violinist, teacher, and composer, who quickly agreed to take up the baton. The February 7, 1959 premiere performance firmly established the orchestra's reputation for musical excellence. On stage were a baker, a lawyer, a doctor, a stockbroker, a minister, an artist, a postman, homemakers, music teachers and professional musicians - all of them exceptional performers. TCO also has a proud history of collaboration with young soloists who later went on to stardom, many of them proteges of longtime Music Director Norman Leyden, who also conducted the Westchester County Youth Orchestra.
From 1967 when Norman Leyden, principal oboist, composer, and teacher, became the next in a series of distinguished conductors, the orchestra continued in its commitments to quality music and to the communities of New Castle and Northern Westchester. The establishment, also in 1967, of the Boris Koutzen Memorial Fund provided income to commission original works to be premiered by TCO. The first Koutzen Fund commissioned work, Thanatopsis, by Paul Creston, was performed in 1971. In 2002, a generous gift from two anonymous donors made it possible for the Fund to once again commission an original work. Michael Shapiro's original score to the 1931 movie Frankenstein received its world premiere in October 2002 at the Jacob Burns Film Center.
In 1970, Wolfgang Schanzer, pianist and opera conductor, became conductor. He remained on the podium of TCO for 12 exciting years. Then in 1984, Andrew Litton, who at the time was an internationally renowned pianist, was engaged as conductor. Mr. Litton, of course, has gone on to preside over several of the best known orchestras of the world, including the Dallas Symphony. From 1987 through 1989, the orchestra continued under the direction of Jesse Levine. During this period the orchestra increased in size and was briefly called the Chappaqua Symphony. The orchestra also evolved from a volunteer community orchestra to a semi-professional organization. Unfortunately this transition proved costly to the orchestra, and TCO struggled financially. In 1992, James Sadewhite became conductor. During his tenure, a benefit concert featuring Vanessa Williams, whose star power filled the Horace Greeley High School Auditorium to capacity, revitalized the orchestra's finances..
In recent years the orchestra has performed at the Reader's Digest World Headquarters, Chappaqua Library, the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua, Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco, Tarrytown Music Hall, The Paramount Center for the Arts, Temple Beth-El of Northern Westchester, Horace Greeley High School, and the new Seven Bridges Middle School Auditorium in Chappaqua.
In 2001, Michael Shapiro was appointed Music Director and Conductor of TCO. Mr. Shapiro's background as an internationally recognized conductor, composer, pianist, and author brought TCO national attention in a joint concert with the Westchester Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center featuring multimedia director, musicologist, and human rights advocate Gottfried Wagner, great grandson of Richard Wagner. Today, The Chappaqua Orchestra is a professional level orchestra that presents challenging repertoire in the context of thematic programming, while building an ensemble of top musicians and showcasing rising stars.