UL Live

By Christina Cavazos

With a mixture of classical and family concerts, Longview Symphony Orchestra is experiencing unprecedented growth that Executive Director Niki Groce says has helped it become “a symphony for everyone.”

“We’ve expanded on our outreach and getting into our community, and we’re bringing new people into becoming classical music lovers,” she said.

Founded in 1968 by Dr. James Snowden, the Longview Symphony Orchestra is composed entirely of professional musicians from Longview, the greater East Texas area, Shreveport-Bossier City, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Musicians audition to be part of the orchestra and are paid performers.

“What we have is incredible,” Groce said. “I’m constantly blown away by them.” The orchestra has grown over the years and adapted its performances. During 2020, for example, the orchestra performed free virtual concerts.

More recently, the symphony has focused on using its annual family concert to drive more people to the symphony and raise awareness of its programs.

The Longview Symphony Orchestra offers a robust season of programming. The season starts in the fall with a classical concert. Then, in December, the annual Home for the Holidays program kicks off the holiday season in Longview.

“It is magical. So many things happen at this concert. It puts the jolly in your season,” Groce said.

In the winter, the symphony performs a classical candlelight concert, and throughout the year, it offers free Bach’s Lunch classical concerts. The Bach’s Lunch concerts are held at churches in Longview and Kilgore as a lunchtime concert series to give people a small taste of classical music.

The symphony concludes its season with its family concert, which typically features music from popular film franchises.

The tradition started with the symphony’s “Harry Potter” concert. Leading up to the concert, Groce organized a Harry Potter-themed maze at the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center. For the maze, she partnered with other arts organizations and City of Longview departments to have volunteers dress up in costume as characters from the franchise. She constructed a maze where visitors used clues to solve a puzzle.

A free event, the maze attracted more than 1,400 attendees. Many of those individuals purchased tickets to come to the concert, which followed the maze about a month later.

In 2023, the symphony held a “Star Wars” concert with a maze that preceded it. The Longview Symphony Orchestra performed the “Star Wars” concert to a sold-out crowd at the 2,000-seat LeTourneau University Belcher Center. It marked the first time for the symphony to sell out the venue and capped a season that set many records for the organization.

With new conductor Dr. Greg Grabowski, the symphony played to a crowd of more than 1,500 people at its Home for the Holidays concert during the 2022-2023 season. That was a record for that particular concert. The symphony followed that by performing to a sold-out audience for its chamber candlelight concert at the Longview Community Center and then performing to a sold-out crowd at the Belcher Center for the “Star Wars” concert.

“I’m so excited at the direction we’re going in,” Groce said. “Last season, we made Longview Symphony history under the direction of Dr. Greg Grabowski, our conductor, who is an amazing person to work with. He’s an incredibly talented, visual person who just knows how to engage the audience and the musicians.”

This spring, the symphony’s family concert will feature music from the DC and Marvel comics film franchises. Leading up to the April 27 concert, the symphony will once again bring back its maze at the Arboretum. Titled “The Joker’s Gauntlet,” the maze will feature volunteers dressed up as characters from popular comic series and will feature a showdown between the Joker and Batman.

“The big challenge this year is to find the Infinity Stones, but you will have several smaller challenges to complete to fill out your map along the way,” Groce explained of this year’s maze. “And, of course, you get to put your name in for prizes at different levels. It’s going to be good.”

With the maze and the family concert, she expects to again bring in new audiences who may have never attended a symphony performance before.

“I feel like we have really expanded and become a symphony for everyone, which was a major goal,” she said. “I feel like we are really now seeing the fruits of our labor.”