About Us

The mission of the Gateway Festival Orchestra is to bring quality symphonic and chamber music to the St. Louis Community – especially to children and youth, the elderly, and the disadvantaged – through free public concerts. This mission is fulfilled through a summer symphony series which includes opportunities for young musicians. In addition, classical ensembles from the orchestra perform at schools, summer camps and assisted living facilities.  Since the founding of the orchestra, inclusion has been considered an important dimension of GFO’s policy and therefore does not permit discrimination on any basis that is prohibited by law.

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Attendance is Free!

We don’t use tickets, just come and join us!

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The Gateway Festival Orchestra presents four free classical music concerts every summer in July. Our conductors are outstanding, and our musicians are all highly skilled professionals. Our public family-friendly concerts are well-received. The GFO concerts are designed to provide an informal user-friendly experience.  The conductor often addresses the audience and “Notes to Munch On” provides an informal discussion of the program by a music educator before the performance.

Our History

The Gateway Festival Orchestra of St. Louis was established in 1964 by William Schatzkamer, Professor of Music at Washington University, together with St. Louis Symphony members Alexander Lydzinski, Henry Loew, and Jerome Rosen, with the support of community leaders Kenneth Billups, Lily Kaufman, and Martin Lanznar. At that time, the St. Louis Symphony season lasted only six months, leaving the summer devoid of symphony concerts and causing local musicians to be in need of musical employment.  The Gateway Festival Orchestra was created to fill those needs, providing free summer concerts by professional musicians playing music from the symphonic repertoire.

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Our Music Directors

  • 1964 – 2002
    William Schatzkamer, Founder
  • 2003 – 2018
    Dr. James Richards
  • 2019 – 2023
    Darwin Aquino
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The first GFO performances took place near the Gateway Arch construction site by the Mississippi River. Considering its time and place, the new orchestra was remarkable for its racial diversity.  Thirty-nine of its musicians were members of the all-white American Federation of Musicians Local 2, and eleven musicians were members of American Federation of Musicians Local 197, which was composed entirely of African-Americans. These two locals later merged.

Our Venues

First GFO performances took place near the Gateway Arch construction site by the Mississippi.

  • 1970 – Performed in open air shell of Brookings Quadrangle at Washington University campus
  • 2019 – Washington University’s 560 Music center
  • 2020 –  Season cancelled due to covid
  • 2021 – Music Park at Centene Community Ice Center, Maryland Heights and Chesterfield Amphitheater
  • 2022 – present Brookings Quadrangle and 560 music center

William Schatzkamer, Founder

William Schatzkamer was a founder of the Gateway Festival Orchestra and its first Music Director and Conductor.  Known affectionately to many as “Willie”, he was born in New York City and received his musical training at the Juilliard School of Music. He was a fellowship student in piano under the celebrated teacher Alexander Siloti. In 1941, Schatzkamer was chosen from a field of sixty pianists to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in New York’s Lewisohn Stadium with a National Youth Administration Orchestra.
From 1948 through 1950, Schatzkamer made recital and concert tours of the United States, Canada and Mexico under the direction of Columbia Artists Management. He played a total of 175 solo performances, including three very successful recitals in New York’s Town Hall. Immediately after the first of these Town Hall recitals, he signed a contract with RCA Victor. In 1951, Schatzkamer joined the faculty of the Music Department of Washington University in St. Louis, and he held that position until 1987. He made his St. Louis Symphony debut in 1956. In 1964 Schatzkamer became the founding conductor of the Gateway Festival Orchestra of St. Louis. In that role he set the high musical standards that GFO musicians strive to achieve at every performance. He also served as the conductor of the Washington University Orchestra, the Northwest Plaza Orchestra, the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra, and the University City Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Schatzkamer retired from the GFO in 2002 at the age of 86, having established the GFO as a cultural treasure in the St. Louis area. He passed away in 2012.