Originally founded in 1980 as the New Orleans Institute for the Performing Arts (NOIPA) by Melvin Alford and Julianne Nice, the organization aimed to provide students and teachers in the performing arts with masterclasses and workshops, as well as expose them to performances by artists in the mainstream of professional activity.
Since its beginning, MASNO has provided both artists and students an opportunity to perform for appreciative audiences and has assisted students in developing skills necessary to build artistic discipline within a comfortable and supportive environment. MASNO has continued to present performances by emerging as well as established artists and to encourage the community to embrace the arts, particularly classical music. In addition to individual events during the year, a weeklong festival featuring master classes, lectures, and performances has been presented annually since 1981, until its one-year postponement in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 1989, Madelyn Trible and Raymond Gitz founded the New Orleans International Piano Competition (NOIPC) as an augmentation to the summer keyboard festival. Without delay, the competition began expanding in scope, attracting competitors and audiences from around the globe, and quickly becoming regarded as one of the finest showcases of pianistic talent.
In the fall of 1994, Melvin Alford stepped down as NOIPA’s first Executive/Artistic Director, and Daniel Weilbaecher was asked to take this position. At that time, NOIPA was renamed the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans.
In 1999, the New Orleans Piano Institute (NOPI) was begun as the educational component of MASNO’s summer event. NOPI is an award-winning, intensive solo performance program for talented college, high school, and junior high pianists that includes private lessons, masterclasses, special presentations, performance, and competition opportunities. All of this is within the inspirational context of the biennial NOIPC and the annual Keyboard Festival. Shearon Horton and Raymond Gitz were the first directors of NOPI, and in 2010, Joni Jensen replaced Raymond as NOPI Local Director. Upon Shearon’s retirement in 2013, Alan Chow and Igor Resnianski accepted the Co-Director positions. In 2017, Joni Jensen joined Igor as NOPI Co-Director. Since 2020, Hristo Birbochukov has served with Igor as Co-Director. The institute format continues to expand and now includes a solo competition on alternate years of the NOIPC as well as virtual components. In addition, the Steinway Society of New Orleans presents the NOPI Concerto Competition of which the winner receives a cash prize as well as the opportunity to perform with the New Orleans Civic Symphony.
In the spring of 2004, MASNO presented its first Concerto Showcase featuring the three medalists of the preceding NOIPC to each perform concerti with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Since only solo repertoire is heard during the competition, Concerto Showcase was envisioned as an extension of the NOIPC allowing our top three prizewinners to be heard in concert with the LPO.
From the strategic viewpoint, a new path was established for the evolution of MASNO’s premiere offering in 2009. The NOIPC, which had always been open to pianists without age restriction, began a biennial alternation with the New Orleans international Piano Competition for Young Artists, open to pianists between 14 and 18 years of age. In 2012, the MASNO Board of Directors decided to end the international competition for young artists and to present NOIPC every other year. Despite its postponement in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic causing a 4-year pause, the NOIPC continues as a biennial event.
In 2013, after 20 years as both Executive and Artistic Director of MASNO, Daniel Weilbaecher resigned his position as Executive Director while continuing to serve as Artistic Director. In the fall of 2014, Cara McCool was named MASNO’s Executive Director, and in 2018, she also took the position of Artistic Director upon Daniel’s retirement. At this time, Alan Chow was named Chairman of the Jury of the New Orleans International Piano Competition, as it had formerly been one of Daniel’s roles.
One of Cara’s goals was to broaden MASNO’s presence in the New Orleans musical community extending beyond the summer-centered events. During her tenure, she has led the organization to expand their presence locally, nationally and internationally by extending their calendar to a full annual season featuring an increasingly diverse roster of talent presented in collaboration with a growing number of partners. Under her leadership and with the support of the Board of Directors, MASNO continues increasing the number of educational and community outreach opportunities they provide throughout the area, and has most recently added their virtual mini-concert series MASNOtes, Le Petit Salon series and other online offerings in an effort to stay connected to the community while continuing to support artists through and beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Celebrating its 42nd anniversary in 2022, MASNO proudly holds true to its vision and mission continuing its efforts to make New Orleans a vital and vibrant center for the musical arts by supporting artists, encouraging supportive audiences, nurturing the development of talent, and championing music education.