Wherever they find themselves, musicians will always get together to make music. Therefore, it is difficult to pin down the true beginnings of orchestral music on the Kenai Peninsula. By 1973 there were small groups of musicians who enjoyed playing together in the Homer area and the Kenai/Soldotna area, and certainly even before that date groups were playing together. The late Karen Hornaday, a wonderful cellist and teacher, had a group of string players in Homer and the Kenai/Soldotna musicians gathered in a small orchestra, called the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra, led first by a man named Charley Baker, who arranged music on the spot for the musicians who showed up at rehearsal. Later, Boyd Holland, Kenai Middle School music teacher, and then Bob Richardson, Kenai Central High School band director, led the RCO. Musicians of both areas of the peninsula collaborated in playing in pit orchestras for Pier One Theatre musical productions, and members of those early groups continue to play with KPO today.
In 1983, under the inspiration of flautist Terry Kallenberg, Kenai Peninsula Orchestra in its current form was born by joining the various Peninsula area groups and inviting Anchorage Symphony members to augment as needed. The Homer Council on the Arts with Mary Epperson as president of the board provided organizational support and Pier One Theatre offered the orchestra a place under its non-profit umbrella.
Bob Richardson, a local music teacher and former conductor of the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra, served as KPO’s first conductor. He guided the orchestra through seven seasons. In 1989, Mark Robinson took the KPO baton when Bob Richardson relocated to Washington. Mark led the group until his retirement in 2008. He oversaw the musical and emotional maturation of the KPO. In 2009, Tammy Vollom-Matturro took the helm as artistic director and conductor and is currently taking us to new heights of musicianship and ensemble playing.
Nancy Chambers served as concertmaster from 1984 until 2005. Since then, Sue Biggs and Michael Schallock have shared the duty. From the very first year, Maria Allison has been instrumental in making the peninsula-wide effort work. Other influential longtime staff members include Laura Norton, Susie Lee and Joan Evans. In 1988 a small planning committee of dedicated players (which evolved into the board of directors) decided to maintain a year-round season. By 2009 the organization had grown enough to leave the shelter of Pier One Theatre and become its own 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. 2012 saw the retirement of both Laura Norton, who had managed the orchestra since 1986, and Mary Epperson, who was a driving force behind the organization from its inception. Mi’shell French became the new executive director.
In 1998 KPO began to host an annual Summer Music Festival, inviting players from around the world to take part in workshops, performance opportunities, and camaraderie in one of the most beautiful places on earth. First the DeVere Quartet, then, from 2008 to 2016, the Madison String Quartet have shared their talent with KPO during these festivals. They lead workshops, rehearse and play with the orchestra, perform concerts of their own, and have added immeasurably to our musicianship.