California Symphony, Donato Cabrera
California Symphony led by Donato Cabrera performs at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek | Credit: Kristen Loken

Ever since its founding in 1986 by percussionist/conductor Barry Jekowsky, California Symphony Orchestra has gone way beyond the usual limits faced by regional orchestras, a now disused term meaning operating on a smaller budget than big “metropolitan” orchestras. CSO’s budget is about $1.5 million.

The Walnut Creek-based orchestra has created the Young American Composers-in-Residence, Sound Minds educational initiative, and other pioneering programs and has consistently advocated diversity and American composers.

Now, for the orchestra’s next season — from Sept. 21 of this year to May 4, 2025 — Donato Cabrera, artistic and music director for the past decade, is programming concerts as ambitious and grand as those coming from much larger orchestras.

Called “Showcasing the Crowning Achievements of Composers at the Peak of their Powers,” the season highlights final symphonies by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Anton Bruckner’s unfinished Symphony No. 9 with Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony on the same program.

Saad Haddad, composer
Saad Haddad | Credit: Bess Adler

Paired with these works, CSO also offers its “new and unusual” music selections, such as the Grammy-winning Philharmonia Fantastique concerto for film and orchestra by Mason Bates. a world premiere by the orchestra’s 2023-2026 Young American Composer-in-Residence Saad Haddad; a recent work by Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Carlos Simon, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez; and rarely performed music by 19th-century French composer Louise Farrenc and 20th-century Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz.

“In celebrating the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, it became clear to me that an interesting journey for our audience would be to hear the final symphony of a great composer at each concert of the 2024-2025 season,” says Cabrera.

“I’ve paired these five final symphonies with contrasting orchestral works, some of which are completely new, while others are very well known. We continue our deep commitment to living and overlooked composers by performing a diverse list of works from our current and former composers-in-residence and others throughout the season.

“We are reestablishing a partnership we began pre-pandemic with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Chorus, as well as welcoming guitar soloist and SFCM faculty member, Meng Su.

“It has been a dream of mine to pair Schubert’s unfinished symphony with Bruckner’s, but performing these two extraordinary symphonies together requires a very special bond between conductor and orchestra. Indeed, very few orchestras could successfully summit both of these masterpieces, but this concert will confirm why my colleagues in the California Symphony have rightfully gained such a well-deserved national reputation.”

Subscriptions are available now, single tickets go on sale in July.