Remembering the Orchestra, the Peninsula Symphony – Part 2

by Mary Urbach

Joan Norton sits out front in the first violin section, second desk behind the Concert Master. When our family first moved to California in 1970 Joan was a neighbor. I asked her if she knew of an orchestra that I could audition. She told me about PSO, in which she was playing at the time. She is the reason I spent all these years in the symphony. Later on I transported her daughter, Mindy, a flutist, and then her other daughter, Sandy, a cellist, to our rehearsals and concerts. They were both first chair players in the California Youth Symphony (CYS). Aaron Sten was the founder as well as conductor of both PSO and CYS at that time. Thank you, Joan.

I remember Mike Bressler, timpanist for many years. He is an emergency room doctor, who initially took care of my mother, when she had washed away all her electrolytes, and was hospitalized for five days at Stanford Hospital.

Then there are my old buddies in the woodwind section: flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoons. Most of them have been playing here a long time. First flute, Ellen Crawford, joined the symphony a year or two after I did, while she was a senior at Stanford around 1972. She was a double major in music and computer science. She really wanted to be a professional flutist, but at that time every professional orchestra opening had about five hundred applicants on flute! She told me she took computer science as second major because it was easy. Audrey Gore, oboist, is the baby in the section. She has only been there about a dozen years or so, Joel Greene, oboist, probably about 20 or so years, Marshall Hollimon, clarinet, about 40 years, and John Givens, bassoonist, 40-something years. How many times did we glue our minds and breath together in close ensemble passages that featured the woodwinds? It is an extraordinary experience to play together. When everyone is in tune, precisely moving together, and blended with near perfect balance (music can never be perfect) it is an indescribable joy. It feels like we are one player: one+one+one+one=one. Of course we had numerous small ensemble gigs outside of the orchestra, trios, quartets and woodwind quintets, which were lots of fun. Sometimes we were paid, for instance, for weddings or funerals, but we also enjoyed playing pro bono for worthy fund-raisers.

I must talk about our Maestro Klein, but I will digress with a bit of history of the PSO as I know it from 1970. The very beginnings of the orchestra actually date from 1949. Aaron Sten, a Russian immigrant and a studio concertmaster for Hollywood movies, created the orchestra out of whole cloth and put it on the map as the best orchestra between San Francisco and San Jose. Sten organized Guilds to provide the financial support. The guilds were clubs of educated ladies, intelligent, usually rich, and non-working, who sold subscriptions and supported the orchestra. They created our audience base for our subscription series four-concert seasons, October, January, March and May, the same format that still exists today.

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