History of the Southwest Symphony

The Southwest Symphony has been the cultural heart of an expanding arts mecca in Southern Utah for over 40 years. With a reputation for excellence, the symphony seeks to fulfill its mission to inspire and enrich audiences through the transformative power of symphonic music. As the cultural heart of the community, the symphony shares the beauty of music through educational and entertaining performances. 

The goals of the symphony are: build financial support that allows for growth and sustainability, increase artistic and leadership excellence, grow the audience base by providing innovative strategies to attract and retain audiences, and partner with and strengthen the commitment to the community.

The symphony began in 1980, when three friends realized a community need to bring live symphonic music to Southern Utah. Dr. Norman H. Fawson, physician and violist, Irene Everett, director of the Dixie String Ensemble, and Dr. Ronald Garner, chairman of the former Dixie State College of Utah music department, wanted to create an orchestra for musicians to share their love of music with the St. George, Utah community. They sought to enrich and enliven the cultural arts landscape in the community. With limited funds, donated resources and an abundance of passion, the Southwest Symphony was born. With Everett as the first conductor, rehearsals for the volunteer 23-piece ensemble began in the basement of the St. George city offices and 5 concerts were scheduled for performance that year in the historic St. George Tabernacle. Since those early days, the symphony has grown in quantity and quality. Now with over 70 members, the all-volunteer musicians make sacrifices every week to attend rehearsals and perform over eleven concerts during the season. 

The musicians are dedicated to the symphony. Norm Fawson, symphony founder and violist, has not missed a performance in over 3 decades. Some musicians make an 80-mile commute from Kanab to attend rehearsals and concerts. Piccolo player Ruth Batt “wouldn’t give up her spot in the orchestra for anything.” She said, “While it is a big commitment time-wise and often very difficult to make all the rehearsals as a full-time mom, it is so rewarding to play with such a wonderful and talented group of people and such a dedicated and caring conductor. Each member of the orchestra loves what he or she does and puts their whole heart and soul into performing.” Performing beautiful music with the symphony is not only fulfilling for the musicians, but leaders and members of the community value and appreciate the pivotal role the symphony plays in their lives. 

Alyce Stevens Gardner, board chair said, “We feel a great responsibility to bring live symphonic music to our community. Our community craves cultural enrichment. Maestro Lucas Darger and the symphony musicians have taken that vision to heart; not only are they passionate about the music they play, but they love the audiences for whom they play.” 

With a population in Washington County over 150,000 people, the citizens and musicians of Southern Utah need the infusion of great, live classical music into their hearts and minds (census.gov). Representative V. Lowry Snow remarked, “The arts are important [and] they need to be recognized. The arts bring richness to life.” 

The Southwest Symphony strives to be a leader in the arts and encourages growth in live arts performance attendance by providing diverse and engaging programming. As the only organized community orchestra in Washington County, the Southwest Symphony has financially been supported by community partners. Combined with the generous support of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the City of St. George and  Washington County RAP tax, individuals and local businesses including Canyon Media, Cache Valley Bank, Ashton Financial, the Eccles Foundation, and the Sorenson Foundation, have donated to the symphony. With enduring support, the Southwest Symphony hopes to continue it’s rich musical legacy into a prosperous future.

Norm Fawson, violist and symphony founder said, “The symphony has continued to grow and develop to serve the community. It is truly a grassroots community project.” Now with over 70 volunteer members, the symphony performs over seven concerts a year often including renowned guests soloists such as Michael Cavanaugh, David Park, Pacho Flores, Caroline Campbell, Rosin Cello Duo, Josh Wright, Demarre McGill, Jenny Oaks Baker, Lexi Walker and Alex Boye. The Southwest Symphony performs a diverse and captivating series of concerts encompassing a wide variety of themes and genres, combining classical and popular music. Handel’s “Messiah”, the Halloween Spooktacular, the Youth Concerto Competition, featuring local young musicians, and the season finale pops concert are performed annually. In addition, the symphony annually provides educational outreach concerts to over 3000 Washington county students. The symphony regularly collaborates with other local artists such as Lieto Voices, DSU Raging Red and the St. George Dance Company.

Proclaimed “Guardians of the Musical Arts” by St. George News, Maestro Lucas Darger is at the helm of the symphony. He leads with clarity, passion and excellence. He said, “I get to work with bright, talented people and together, we get to play some of the greatest music ever composed.”