The Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra celebrates 90 years, but long-time music director is leaving

Contributed photo by Brad Cansler / Music director Kayoko Dan is leaving the symphony after becoming the first female and youngest conductor in CSO history.
Contributed photo by Brad Cansler / Music director Kayoko Dan is leaving the symphony after becoming the first female and youngest conductor in CSO history.

In a city known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera (CSO), has been a cornerstone of the community for 90 years. Since its inception, CSO has not only entertained audiences with world-class performances, but it has also played a pivotal role in shaping the cultural landscape of Chattanooga arts and music.

CSO, one of the largest arts employers in the Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia regions, has a mission to "inspire, engage and enrich the greater Chattanooga community through music and music education." CSO utilizes the power of live orchestral music and educational music programs to build generational connections, inspire people and transform the Chattanooga community into a vibrant and exciting place to live.

Once a small community orchestra, CSO has grown into a professional operation employing over 120 contract and substitute musicians each season.

CSO director of marketing and communications, Julia Milrod, says that most of the employed musicians reside locally, and their impact goes beyond the concert stage as teachers and advocates for the arts in educational institutions and private teaching studios. "It is an incredible asset that a city of our relatively small size has so many local professional musicians contributing to our arts and culture," she says.

In addition, the upcoming 2023-24 performance season will mark significant milestones as CSO celebrates its 90th anniversary and says goodbye to its current music director, Kayoko Dan, who is moving cross-country for another position.

Dan overcame obstacles as the music director. Hired at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped guide the orchestra through uncertain times, while also being the first female and youngest conductor in CSO history. Kayoko's contributions to CSO are virtually unparalleled, Milrod says.

Dan says that there have been several particularly proud moments in her career with CSO.

"'I'm most proud of expanding CSO's programming, which includes works by women and underrepresented composers," she says.

CSO's commitment to diversity and inclusion remains unwavering. Their partnership with United Sound and the National Alliance for Audition Support in the 2023-2024 season underscores this dedication by providing resources to underrepresented communities and composers of color. The orchestra continues to be a driving force in fostering equitable opportunities in the world of orchestral music

Dan also says that she is proud of her patrons' acceptance of her new musical pieces and their commitment to going all-in when it comes to new music.

On April 11, 2024, vocalists and musicians from around the Chattanooga area will join Dan in a monumental final performance of Beethoven to end her time here in the Scenic City. "I hope to be remembered as someone who invoked curiosity and open-mindedness in the community for exploring different composers and styles," Dan says.

CSO will have four candidates for music director conduct mainstage concerts throughout this year's performance season, and concert attendees will be given a chance to weigh in on each candidate's performance through a survey link.

As CSO embarks on its 90th year, it does so with a profound sense of gratitude for the community it serves. Through discounted rates for music educators, sensory-friendly concerts, family concerts and all-accessible concerts, CSO remains steadfast in its mission to engage and enrich the community through the power of music.

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