This past Saturday night, Maestro Crafton Beck, or “Craft” as he wanted to be known, conducted his final performance with the Lima Symphony Orchestra. After 22 years of being musical director and conductor of this regional orchestra, Craft wanted to slow down next year.

For 18 years, he has held dual responsibilities as musical director and conductor of the Lima Symphony and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra in Jackson, Mississippi. Craft will continue with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. At one time, Craft also was the conductor of the Boca Pops Orchestra in Florida and was an assistant conductor to Eric Kunzel and the famed Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. During that time with the Cinci Pops, Craft became proficient as an arranger/composer and has had his works performed and recorded by the Cinci Pops, Detroit Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

Craft became a regular in Van Wert, conducting the Lima Pops Orchestra in Fountain Park. Since 2002, the Lima Pops has performed Friday nights before or on Independence Day. Van Wert became a favorite audience for Craft and he made every effort to be on the podium in Fountain Park. He has told me several times how much he enjoys and appreciates Van Wert audiences.

The decision to step down as music director and conductor of the Lima Symphony was made last year, allowing a process to take place of searching internationally for his replacement. I was fortunate to be a musician representative on the search committee. There were well over 100 candidates interested from all over the world. That pool of candidates was shrunk down to eight candidates who will each conduct a concert next season and then a final choice will be made. The winning candidate will become just the third conductor of the Lima Symphony Orchestra since 1967.

Joseph Firszt took over a community orchestra in 1967 and grew it into a regional orchestra before handing the baton over to Beck in 1997. Since then, Craft increased the orchestra budget, performance season, and quality of musicians to an entirely professional orchestra. Musicians who perform in the Lima Symphony Orchestra come from Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, and other regions throughout the tri-state area. The performance repertoire rivals that of most any professional orchestra in the world.

Evidence of the quality of repertoire was this past Saturday’s performance, Craft’s farewell performance. He chose Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony #2 which incorporated the largest number of musicians ever on stage, including two vocal soloists and a combined chorus of the Lima Symphony (which was another innovation of Beck’s,) along with The OSU-Lima and Ohio Northern University choruses- 143 total singers.

This immense work of five movements, lasted nearly 90 minutes in length. Off-stage trumpet and horn players are incorporated in the work, adding a musical effect one just has to experience to appreciate.

Following the performance, the audience as well as performers rose to applaud the Maestro for not only a magnificent performance that night, but also for 22 years of dedication, hard work, and many musical highlights and memories.

Craft will be missed, but we look forward to a new conductor and music director as we forge new paths of musical experiences. We appreciate all Craft has contributed to our area and the immense leadership he has provided the Lima Symphony Orchestra. Looking at the list of conductor candidates next season, the future looks bright. I can’t wait to experience new musical moments from the baton of a new conductor.

As I step down as Executive Director of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center next month, I can share some of the same feelings as Craft Beck. The one thing I will miss the most is knowing the joy I helped create for you, the audience. I hope to return to the Niswonger stage in the future as a member of the newly directed Lima Symphony Orchestra!

Don’t forget about these upcoming Niswonger performances as we draw the season to a close: Sanctus Real- April 14, Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone- April 28, and finally- “The Sound of Music” on May 4. I can’t think of a much better finale to my career at the Niswonger than “The Sound of Music!”