Thoughts and dreams of a symphony orchestra began when string players were accompanying the Austin Oratorio Society in productions of “Messiah” and “Elijah” in 1946. During the next eleven years, a group of musicians would occasionally get together to play for fun, perhaps putting on small concerts in the high school orchestra room. After one of these concerts, violist John Madura asked “Why can’t we have our own symphony orchestra?” And so it began. Incorporation papers were filed on October 17, 1957 and a twenty-one member board was chosen to oversee the organization. Paul Heltne, music coordinator of the Austin High School, was appointed symphony conductor with John Madura as its first manager.

On November 25, 1957, Mr Heltne gave the downbeat to “Fledermaus Overture”. And thus began the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Mr Heltne’s strong leadership caused the symphony to grow and mature during his tenure, which lasted until his retirement in 1972. Selection of a new conductor followed, while guest conductors Donaldson Lawhead and Richard Larson each took their turn directing concerts, with Larson chosen to succeed Mr Heltne. Under his direction the symphony expanded the scope of works performed to include opera, ballet and great choral works, as well as to serve as the accompanying group for internationally famous artists.

In 1982, following the 25th anniversary of the symphony, Mr. Larson moved to a new position in Colorado, and David Jordhal began a six year tenure as symphony conductor. His expertise as a violinist was instrumental in improving the tone quality of the orchestra strings, and his concerts were described as “assured and skilled”. Resigning to pursue other interests, Philip Burkhart became the fourth conductor. He continued to lead the orchestra in exciting rehearsals and great choral and symphonic works, introducing a unique chorus of Elementary School Students in 1992.

In 1994 Mr. Burkhart resigned to devote more time to his regular job as high school orchestra director. The search began for a replacement, which was found in Stephen Ramsey of Minneapolis. Under his guidance, the orchestra has striven for artistic excellence in every composition it performs, and has also reinstated the Monday morning Young People’s Concerts for students in grades 4 – 6.


Stephen J Ramsey


Stephen Ramsey, well-known conductor in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, is beginning his 26th year as music director/conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

He is the founding music director and conductor of the Dakota Valley Symphony and Chorus, and also directs the Dakota Valley Summer Pops Orchestra and Chorale and the Health Sciences Orchestra of the University of Minnesota. Ramsey earned his Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Missouri--Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and has studied with Leonard Slatkin, Max Rudolph and Maurice Jones.

The Orchestra

Violin I

  • Susan Radloff**
  • Joe Anderson
  • Jenny Kittleson
  • Meghan Kozub
  • Victoria Smith
  • Brianna Talusan

Violin II

  • Emily Beaver
  • Rebekah Crissinger
  • Jane Hanson
  • Laura Larson
  • Dennis Root
  • Jana Root


  • Kathy Brittain
  • Deb Cooper
  • Ellen Gerber
  • Murah Hsiung
  • Brenna Gerhart
  • Mel Miland
  • Ben Walker


  • Haley Rafferty*
  • Diane Dammen
  • Sue Franklin
  • Tedd Lund
  • Tim Rietz
  • Thomas Walker


  • Brenda Radloff*
  • Doug Nelson
  • Logan Rollag
  • Thomas Walker


  • Gayle Heimer*
  • Erin Grush


  • Amy Unseth


  • Holly Dalager*
  • Pat Hulet

English Horn

  • Lori Griffin


  • Leah Motl*
  • Mike Hanson

Bass Clarinet

  • Michelle Dina


  • Gayle Brownlow*
  • Lucas Roman

French Horn

  • Jenny Steele*
  • Amalie Niethammer
  • Laura Wight
  • Aisling O’Sullivan


  • Ethan Wightkin*
  • Steve Reints
  • Jacob Burkhart


  • Mike Postma*
  • Myra Lee
  • David Kassler


  • Scott Weckmann


  • Phil Burkhart


  • Kelly Bahl*
  • Sarah Cain
  • Malachi Oman
  • Chris Paulson
  • Blake Zimmerli


  • Rachel Christensen


  • Katherine Shapinsky

*indicates Principal