Our Story • The Gateway Festival Orchestra of St. Louis

Our Story

From the top…


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.
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. Since its inception the GFO has been led by a succession of outstanding conductors. Founder William Schatzkamer served from 1964 until his retirement in 2002.  The baton was then passed to Dr. James Richards who led the Orchestra through 2018.  Present-day Music Director/Conductor, Darwin Aquino, began his tenure with the GFO in 2019.
From 1970, the Gateway Festival Orchestra performed in the open-air shell of the Brookings Quadrangle on the Washington University campus. The informal atmosphere is conducive to picnicking and family attendance. Because the Brookings Quadrangle was unavailable due to construction, the 2019 concert series took place at Washington University’s 560 Music Center. There was great audience acclaim for the new venue, for the performances, and for its new conductor Darwin Aquino.  The GFO made plans to hold concerts at both venues in 2020, but the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.    In 2021 the GFO performed a successful three concert series at Music Park at the Centene Community Ice Center, a new outdoor venue in Maryland Heights. An additional performance occurred at the Chesterfield Amphitheater and featured the GFO Winds, Brass and Percussion. The GFO returned to the Brookings Quadrangle and the 560 Music Center in 2022 and 2023.


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