71st Season!

History of the Orchestra


The Northwest Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1952 by a group of amateur musicians living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. They asked Perry Crafton, a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to conduct the orchestra, and under his baton, the group’s inaugural concert was held on May 3, 1953. Mr. Crafton continued as music director until his retirement in 1994. His forty-two season tenure as music director is unprecedented in community orchestra annals and speaks to Mr. Crafton’s abilities as a musician and leader. During this period the orchestra gradually increased in size, establishing a regular annual season program of four concerts.

 In 1994, Paul Vermel was appointed music director and conductor and led the NSO till 2013. His considerable skills as teacher, conductor, and musician have endeared him to orchestra members and audience alike. Each season, Maestro Vermel programmed rarely performed compositions, as well as works by living composers (the 1996-1997 and 2002-2003 seasons included world premieres), and had often collaborated with other area musical groups to present joint performances. The Northwest Symphony Orchestra commissioned “Entrance to the City of Proud Fancy” by Daniel Steven Crafts, to celebrate the orchestra’s 50th Anniversary.

Maestro Paul Vermel conducts concert to honor Veterans in 2007.

In 1995, through the efforts of Barbara Hedlund from the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, the NSO instituted a solo competition for young instrumentalists, and each year a string performer has been named the Paul Vermel Young Artist Award winner. In addition to a cash prize, the winner performs a solo concerto with the orchestra at a scheduled concert. Recipients of this award have gone on to hold seats in prestigious groups such as the Indianapolis Symphony, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Sarasota (FL) Symphony, and the Milwaukee Symphony.

For Vermel’s programming of the 50th anniversary season, the NSO received the Programming of the Year Award for 2003 from the Illinois Council of Orchestras, of which the NSO is a member. Other awards garnered by the NSO from the Illinois Council of Orchestras include the Volunteer of the Year (Jim Bataille) in 2002, Community Orchestra of the Year in 2005, Conductor of the Year (Paul Vermel) in 2006, Board President of the Year (Diane Macewicz) in 2007, and Volunteer of the Year (Walter Wolodkin) in 2008.

Upon Maestro Vermel’s retirement, in 2013 conductor and composer Kim Diehnelt joined the NSO as music director and conductor, and the NSO moved its performing location from Maine West High School to The Theater at Forest View Education Center. Under the guidance of Maestra Diehnelt, the NSO reached new artistic levels, including an Encore Performance in April 2014 with violist Michael Hall at the prestigious Orchestra Hall in Chicago, IL.

Maestra Diehnelt initiated The Paul Vermel Conductor Apprenticeship Program to mentor young conductors. The Apprenticeship program annually offered an opportunity for a student of conducting to receive guidance and instruction while studying, rehearsing, and conducting a selected work in a concert with the Northwest Symphony Orchestra. During her 4 years of directing with the NSO, she programmed several works which were composed by Diehnelt herself.

At the beginning of our 2018/19 Season, the NSO welcomed Timothy Semanik as our 4th Music Director and Conductor. In addition to his post with the Northwest Symphony, Maestro Semanik is currently the music director of the Bradley Symphony Orchestra, the Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra, and the Savoyaires of Evanston, IL.  He was previously music director for the Carleton College Orchestra, the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra, the Northern Illinois University Philharmonic, and the Central Illinois Youth Symphony.

Many notable solosist have appeared with the NSO over the years. In addition to its own members performing on violin, viola, oboe, flute, trumpet, french horn, and bassoon; the NSO has welcomed members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on many occasions. Those who have appeared most recently with the NSO include: Joh Bruce Yeh (clarinet), Donald Moline (cello - twice), Mary Sauer (piano), Gene Pokorny (tuba), Susan Nigro (contrabassoon), Matheu Dufour (flute), Cornelius Chiu (violin), Daniel Gingrich (french horn - twice), Laryy Combs (clairinet), and at-the-time concertmaster Robert Chen (violin). Furthermore, other virtuosso soloists have performed with the NSO, including Aaron Wardell (baritone vocalist), and Rachel Barton Pine (violin).

More on the life of Paul Vermel
NSO Music Director and Conductor (1994-2013)

Reported by the "Portland Press Herald, 18 February 2024

Paul was born in Paris, France on Feb. 19, 1924, the second child of Naoum Vermel and Marguerite Amirian Vermel. His older sister, Marianne, was born in Russia in 1921, and the family escaped to France after the Russian Revolution.

He lived with his family in Paris, with summers in Deauville on the Normandy coast, until the outbreak of World War II. When the Germans invaded France, the family stayed in Deauville for a year. After the fall of Paris, the family moved to the ”free” area of Vichy, until all of France was occupied by the Germans. They then moved back to Paris, where it was easier to hide from the German soldiers. One of his greatest memories was the day that American and French forces, led by General Charles DeGaulle, entered Paris and marched up the Champs Élysées.

Before WWII, he studied conducting, organ, harmony, and theory in his native Paris – studying conducting with André Cluytens and Paul Kletzki, and organ with André Fleury. In 1949, he left France to study at The Juilliard School in New York City, N.Y. as a student of Jean Morel. He served on the Juilliard faculty in both the orchestral and opera departments. He became an American citizen in 1954 and was honored at the White House, at a reception in the Rose Garden, by President Dwight Eisenhower, for his achievements in music.

During his 10 years in New York Paul was music director and conductor of the Hudson Valley Symphony, the Doctor’s Orchestral Society, and the Brooklyn Community Orchestra, and taught at Brooklyn College. For eight years he was music director of the summer opera and musical theater program at Green Mansions in the Berkshires. He made his Broadway debut as assistant conductor of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Saint of Bleecker Street. While living in New York he was an usher at Carnegie Hall, where he met his first wife, Ann Nelson Vermel, with whom he was married for 13 years. They had one daughter, Valerie, who now lives in Maine.

Leaving New York, Paul Vermel moved to California to become music director and conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic. He also taught at California State University, was music director of the Fresno Youth Orchestra, and conducted opera extensively.

Moving back to the east coast in 1966, he served as director of the Music in Maine Project (a Title III program) and one year later was tapped to lead the Portland Symphony Orchestra. He was Music Director of the PSO from 1967 to 1975, a time of significant musical growth. During his tenure, a series of Family Concerts was begun and the first out-of-town (run-out concerts) were given, starting in Augusta, and eventually including several towns in New Hampshire, and cities throughout Maine, and the PSO received a National Endowment for the Arts grant that supported a tour of the Canadian Provinces. Summer Concerts returned to the orchestra’s schedule, and Youth Concerts were expanded and improved. Paul Vermel also conducted the Portland Community Orchestra, which was supported by the PSO. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Nasson College in 1975. As Music Director of the PSO, he helped to found the Portland String Quartet, whose players – violinists Stephen Kecskemethy and Ronald Lantz, violist Julia Adams, and cellist Paul Ross – he hired as the string principals of the orchestra. One of his greatest pleasures in living in Portland was that he could study scores and prepare rehearsals in the morning, and ski in the afternoon.

For 20 years, beginning in 1974, Paul Vermel was professor of music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and conductor of both the University Symphony and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony. While at University of Illinois, he conducted many operas with Illinois Opera Theatre, and took the University Symphony Orchestra on tour throughout the state. He was a frequent All-State and District Festival conductor. At the University of Illinois he met Carolyn Paulin, a doctoral student in choral music, whom he married in 1978. After Paul’s retirement from the University of Illinois, he and Carolyn lived in the Chicago, Ill. area from 1994 to 2014, where he continued to conduct and teach privately. He served as Music Director of the Northwest Symphony Orchestra from 1994 to 2013, and North Suburban Symphony from 1996 to 2007.

His guest conducting experience included performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony of Washington, D.C., the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the New Jersey Symphony, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, and numerous regional, community and All-State orchestras. An active teacher since his Juilliard days, Paul Vermel headed the orchestral conducting program at the Aspen Music Festival and School for 14 years, and taught at the Conductors Institute at the University of South Carolina for 23 years. Many of his students are achieving success on the podiums of orchestras in the United States and Europe.

Among Paul’s many awards and honors are: the Koussevitsky Memorial Award for the outstanding conductor at the Tanglewood Festival, the American Symphony Orchestra League Recognition Award, a Ford Foundation grant for advanced study and, in conjunction with the national Orchestras-On-Tour Program, the Bell Telephone Award for outstanding achievement in and contribution to the arts. He was honored with the ASCAP Award for adventuresome programming of contemporary music. In January of 2009 he received the Max Rudolf Award from the Conductors Guild, given biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement as a conductor and pedagogue, and significant service to the profession in the realms of scholarship and ensemble building.

Paul Vermel brought to the podium over 60 years of expertise. His final appearance as a conductor was on the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Gala 90th Anniversary Concert, in which all four living conductors led the orchestra. Paul opened the program, conducting Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont – from memory – at the age of 91.

Paul and Carolyn returned to Maine in the summer of 2014, and enjoyed living in Scarborough, going to the Symphony and the Portland Museum of Art, and to many concerts. Paul Vermel, conductor, orchestra builder, teacher, mentor, husband, father and friend, passed away on Feb. 14, 2024, at the age of 99, just five days before his 100th birthday.

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