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California Symphony Picks Up Steam

August 1, 2017

There’s lots of good news coming in from the California Symphony. The latest is that the orchestra was in the black for the 2016–2017 fiscal year (which ended July 31 for the orchestra). Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer reports, in the orchestra’s quarterly newsletter that donations are up once again and the donor base has quadrupled “in recent seasons.”

Six years ago, the orchestra started its Sound Minds program, which delivers music education and individual instrument instruction to San Pablo’s Downer Elementary School. The El Sistema inspired program has been having a tremendous effect, according to the orchestra’s publicist: “Kids in the Sound Minds Program have outscored their peers in standardized tests by as much as 63 percent, with the achievement gap widening each year students participate … After one year in program, math proficiency rates quadruple — four times as many students test at grade level or higher, compared to the 3rd graders not in the program — and reading proficiency rates for this majority Spanish-speaking population double, compared to their non-participating peers.”

Students in second through sixth grades study violin, cello, choral singing, music theory, and musicianship. Downer Elementary Principal Marco Gonzales said: “The Sound Minds program is the most transformational program I have witnessed in my 22 years as an elementary school principal.”

This past June, when National Endowment for the Arts announced its grants for 2017-18, the Sound Minds program was awarded $15,000, the California Symphony’s first NEA grant since 2011. Not to be outdone, the California Arts Council is ponying up $16,200 for the program, which is now serving 120 schoolchildren.

And onstage, the orchestra, based in Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts and conducted by Music Director Donato Cabrera, is opening the new season with Nathaniel Stookey’s YTTE (Yield to Total Elation), Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Stookey’s imaginative collaboration with Lemony Snicket, The Composer is Dead, highlights the December holiday concerts, then Avery Fisher Career Grant awardee Alexi Kenney comes in to play Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in January.

Ragnar Bohlin brings the San Francisco Conservatory Chorus across the bay to participate in Mozart’s Requiem, in a concert so big they’re doing it twice. Finally, on the May program, the orchestra’s composer in residence, Katherine Balch premieres her composition like a broken clock, alongside Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3 and Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Haochen Zhang. 

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.