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Fremont Symphony Flourishes With Help From The Community

June 30, 2015

Fremont is 45 miles southeast of San Francisco, but on a Steinberg map, with Market Street in the foreground, Fremont would be at the fringe of the known world.

Fremont has become a spillover community from Silicon Valley, in all senses. The population is about 220,000; many are software engineers. Average income is about $114,000 a year. The town also has a 51-year-old symphony, which is flourishing, despite its past troubles attracting an audience.

Success is a “shared victory” in the words of Eman Isadiar, the Fremont orchestra’s executive director. He is just the fourth director in half a century.

“It’s not the result of any one person or thing,” he told us a few days ago. “I don’t know how else to put it; after many years of ups and downs things have lined up in our favor, and success breeds success. Also, there has been a paradigm shift, and we have convinced people that we are no longer a struggling little orchestra playing in a half-empty hall. We’ve shown that we can attract large crowds and keep them.”

The paradigm shift has involved a new board president, a board that can raise money, a tenacious core of season subscribers, a rotating group of conductors, an emphasis on building cash reserves, and an innovative strategy to become not just appreciated by the community but needed by the community. “There has been a paradigm shift. We’ve shown that we can attract large crowds and keep them.” -- Eman Isadiar, executive director, Fremont Symphony Orchestra

One way to create that need has been through an innovative youth program. For years, the orchestra has featured an annual Young Artists Competition, which is exclusive and focuses on a different class of instrument each year. Winners receive a $2,000 cash prize and have included such high-profile recipients as pianists Natasha Paremski, Jon Nakamatsu, and Chloe Pang.

Now Isadiar has added a “young recitalists competition.” It’s designed for musicians under 18 living within a 15-mile, local radius. It’s open to all instruments every year. There are half a dozen winners and no monetary award, but the hope is that it will encourage young musicians to participate. The first competition was held this year and was a huge success.

Fremont Symphony Orchestra - West Meets East - April 11, 2015 from Fremont Symphony Orchestra on Vimeo.

Besides the competitions, there is a third program for children, which is for fourth through sixth graders in the Fremont Unified School District. Kids in the program compose short melodies, which are then played by the full orchestra. Melodies are typically eight to 20 measures and have names such as “Dawn of the Bloodthirsty Vampires.”  There are hundreds of entries; the best eight are performed.

But beyond all these programs, competitions, and fiscal strategies that the Fremont orchestra has used to insure a foothold in the community, the way the orchestra has approached donors may be the most significant. The organization has made a concerted effort to court community leaders, including the area’s most prominent arts patron, and a leader in the Indian-American community, a cardiologist named Dr. Romesh Japra.

A few weeks ago, Japra hosted a gala to benefit the orchestra at his house, which, as Isadiar explained, is 36,000 square feet and somewhat of a curiosity in Fremont. In fact, it was the desire to see his house that drew a crowd of more than 200 donors and ticket subscribers. It’s the largest home in the area and includes two vineyards and a tennis court. From the air it looks like a lavish hotel.

According to Isadiar, the association with Japra has led to many other community collaborations. One of those is through the Federation of Indo-Americans of Northern California — where Japra serves as president — which is hosting an international movie festival in San José on August 15. The Fremont Symphony will perform.

The orchestra’s season begins on September 26 and features Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea and Romance for Hsaio and Ch’in by Chen Yi, in addition to Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Britten, conducted by Jung-Ho Pak. In addition to three orchestra sets — with the last, in April 2016, conducted by Michael Morgan — the orchestra will present two recitals, one by Jon Nakamatsu, and one by the St. Michael Trio.

Corrections: The award for the Young Artists Competition is $2,000, not $5,000 as was previously reported. The spelling of Dr. Romesh Japra's name has also been corrected.

Mark MacNamara, a writer and journalist based in Asheville, North Carolina, has written for such publications as NautilusSalonThe Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair. From time to time, his pieces in San Francisco Classical Voice also appear in ArtsJournal.com.  Noteworthy examples include a piece about Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast; a profile of sound composer Pamela Z and an essay on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. MacNamara recently won several awards in the 2018 Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards presented by the San Francisco Press Club.  His website is macnamband.com.