The History of Peninsula Symphony
Dedication and love of music are the hallmarks of the Peninsula Symphony that is one of the finest community orchestras in the country.
The start of its influence began in 1949 when two groups of musicians who met independently in Redwood City (about twelve in number) and in San Mateo (about thirty-two in number) joined together under Mr. Aaron Sten, who had recently moved to San Carlos to now find himself conducting a group of sixty musicians under the name the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra. Rehearsals were held three times a week at Sequoia High School as part of an adult education program that gave Aaron Sten a salary as well as auditorium space for rehearsals. For over thirty five years this arrangement continues to be in place. The new orchestra, however, struggled financially and its needs were met by volunteerism, hard work, and persistence.
In the first year it was established, and as it continues today, there were four pairs of concerts on Friday night and Saturday night (October or November; January; March; and May) with programming with a different, professionally excellent guest artist for each pair of concerts. By the end of the second season, the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra had become the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra with donors, and the incorporation of the Peninsula Symphony as a non-profit Association under the leadership of Vincent Guida, a clarinet player in the former Redwood City group who was also the real estate professional who sold Aaron Sten his San Carlos house. T. Kevin Mallen was elected Chairman of the Board with sixteen members. The list of sponsors and donors then expanded quickly and the community was being involved in the orchestra’s success story.
Over the years, Aaron Sten started the California Youth Symphony with some of these musicians moving into the Peninsula Symphony as they grew up.
Venues moved from Sequoia High School to Notre Dame Auditorium in Belmont with the second concert at San Mateo High School Auditorium. Later venues included Spangenberg Auditorium at Palo Alto’s Gunn High School; Foothill College Gymnasium in Los Altos, and, in October of 1971, Flint Center in Cupertino. To date, the Symphony also plays at Capuchino Theatre in San Bruno and at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, with new venues being explored for the coming seasons.
Audience development in the Symphony’s early years was slow and challenging until 1956 when then Board President, Robert L. Clark, developed the Women’s Auxiliary that, for the next thirty years, was the driving force behind the organization.
With no Executive Director and no Symphony office, the work was completed by dedicated volunteers. The Auxiliary filled the halls, raised the funds, sold the advertising, wrote the publicity releases, and even ushered at concerts. Dorothy Norman, a violist with the orchestra, in 1964, took on subscriptions, pre-concert fliers and all mailings. Until her retirement in 1986, she completed almost all of the duties of an Executive Director from her home as a volunteer.
About 1985, it became increasingly clear to the Board that the fast growing Symphony organization needed an office and a paid, professional full time Executive Director with the expanding scope of the organization and its increasing complexity. This was also the year that Aaron Sten, the founder, retired to the Gold County and a new conductor took the podium bringing innovations and new ideas for the orchestra’s very bright future.
Mitchell Sardou Klein, who began his role in 1985, was a sharp contrast to Aaron Sten who founded the Symphony, nurtured it, and left it with a legacy of a fierce love of music, utter devotion to classical performance excellence, and the memory of his fiery temperament.
Maestro Klein has now brought the symphony to statewide prominence with his excellence in conducting and musicianship, expanded offerings of new music and his enhanced community outreach through such programs as Bridges to Music in the local schools. No other community orchestra is as accomplished and plays with internationally recognized soloists before large audiences.
The Peninsula Symphony has evolved fully from an organization where the conductor attended to marking the string music with bowings and fingerings as well as concert productions, where the Board managed the finances, and the Auxiliary performed all the other tasks.
Gone are the home offices, the Beautiful Viennesse balls that were attended each year by 360 patrons, but what remains is an organization where volunteers, from musicians to fund raisers, are the life giving force that empowers and embodies love of music and love of community, with a past and a future looking towards service to others in the joy of making music and creating beauty.
68th Season Kickoff Party
How We Honored Our Longest-Standing Musicians & Welcomed our Fortissima Season
September 28, 2016
This past Saturday, I was able to take part in a tradition at PSO for the first time – the season Kickoff party! What a memorable event filled with long-time friends, colleagues, fellow musicians, board members, staff, and gracious hosts, Ellis & Karen Alden. The afternoon was filled with memory making and memory recollecting. PSO members who have been performing with the orchestra for over 20 years were honored, given a certificate for their dedication and talent, along with a kiss, handshake, or hug and personal introduction from our beloved maestro Mitchell Sardou Klein. It was a sight to behold, and something I know I (and those present) will never forget. I truly felt on that day that PSO is more than just a musical ensemble – it’s a family.
Twenty-eight (!) of our musicians have been with us for over twenty years. In a 90-person orchestra, that’s nearly one-third. These members are committed often professionally-trained musicians that volunteer their time, talent, and support to further the mission of Peninsula Symphony. Along the way, they’ve created lasting bonds and contributed to PSO beyond just notes and rhythms in its 67 year history. This is what PSO is made of. This is what PSO looks like. Family, friends, musicianship, and commitment beyond belief.
Here are just a few pictures from the memorable event (photo credit Michael Frumkin):