Brief History of the Peninsula Music Festival

Thursday August 6, 1953 marked the first concert of the Peninsula Music Festival. In 1951, the Festival was just an idea. Thor Johnson, founder and conductor of the Festival, had a dream of organizing a festival built around a chamber orchestra, performing the rich repertory for small orchestra which was seldom heard. He had mentioned this idea to Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz Heise who were extremely interested in the idea due to their love for music. After a few years of committee meetings and budget planning, the organization was formed.

A budget of $10,000 was proposed and needed to be raised before the start of the Festival. Though there were mixed feelings on the likelyhood of raising that amount of money, an eager team of volunteers went "door to door" in search of funds to help start this musical dream. Plans were made to start the first Festival performances in August of 1953 with eight different chamber orchestra performances including a concert especially for young people. Concerts would be performed in the Gibraltar School gymnasium. The first Festival was a success which set the foundation for future development. Thor Johnson along with Lorenz Heise and Kay Wilson of Ephraim were the backbone of the Festival in the early years.

Thor Johnson led the Festival for 22 years, guiding it as it became an established Door County institution, until his death in 1975. The loss of the founder is particularly difficult but new leadership carried on what Thor Johnson had begun. Michael Charry was appointed music director in 1978. After Mr. Charry's resignation in 1982, Byron Hanson became Music Coordinator. As Music Coordinator, Byron brought in many guest conductors to help lead the orchestra.

In 1985 Victor Yampolsky was appointed as Music Director and Conductor with a unanimous decision by the Festival Committee. Under Maestro Yampolsky, the festival has continued to grow and develop. The orchestra has grown from a chamber orchestra to a full symphony of 64 members. Concerts once being held in the Gibraltar gymnasium are now held in the state of the art Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek.

In 1998, the Peninsula Music Festival added the Winter Concerts Series to bring chamber music to Door County throughout the year. Now called the February Fest, these chamber concerts bring members of the PMF orchestra and favorite guest artists back to Door County so our audience can see how talented these musicians are in intimate settings throughout the county.

Since 1991, the August symphony festival performances have been performed in the Door Community Auditorium, a uniquely intimate and acoustically outstanding venue that is ideal for experiencing symphonic music. With 750 seats, it is a smaller than the typical symphony orchestra performing venue. Although long-time festival attendees may have nostalgic memories of the folding chairs on the gym floor, the un-airconditioned hot summer nights, and the large fans operated before and after the music to get some air into the gym, most will appreciate the air-conditioning, the comfortable seats, and the ideal acoustics of the present festival home.

The Festival continues to thrive because it presents an extrodinary high standard of performance in a near perfect environment that provides an uniquely outstanding musical experience. The many dedicated volunteers and the efficient and professional administrative staff assure these performances are well presented. The orchestra personnel are outstanding musicians from many professional orchestras across the country who have been returning, in many cases, for years and years. The Peninsula Music Festival is now Northeast Wisconsin's only Professional Orchestra, and one of the midwest's finest, presenting nine concerts each August.

Seasoned fans of symphonic music having heard their first Peninsula Music Festival concert are usually very surprised at the high level of performance and the quality of the overall experience. If you have not attended the festival, give yourself a special treat and join us for a concert this summer.

Click here for a more extensive biography of the Peninsula Music Festival's Founding Music Director, Thor Johnson.

Click here for a summary of the connection between the Moravian Church and the founding of the Peninsula Music Festival.

August Symphony Series performance location

Door Community Auditorium - Fish Creek 

The Peninsula Music Festival - 10347 Highway 42

Unit B Green Gables Shops 

P.O. Box 340, Ephraim, Wisconsin  54211


Phone: (920) 854-4060