The start of the Peninsula Symphony was like the confluence of three streams: two distinct musical ensembles (the Sequoia Symphony & the Peninsula Symphony), and one conductor, Russian-born violinist/conductor Aaron Sten, joined forces in 1949. In that very first year, many features were established which were to become trademarks of the Peninsula Symphony: four concerts in October, January, March, and May; a balanced musical program featuring first-class guest artists; an attractive concert program with informative notes; and strong support from the community. In those first years, Maestro Aaron Sten also founded the California Youth Symphony, and began the tradition of incorporating outstanding young musicians into Peninsula Symphony performances.
In 1951, under Vincent Guida, symphony clarinetist and business manager, the organization was incorporated as a non-profit association, and a formal board was chosen. In 1956, Board President Robert L. Clark was the driving force behind the creation of the Peninsula Symphony Auxiliary, which was instrumental to the development of an audience base. With no office or Executive Director yet, volunteers played a crucial role in symphony operations. By 1985, the time had come to open an office in San Mateo and hire a paid Executive Director. Coincidentally, this was also the last year of founding conductor Aaron Sten’s leadership.
With the arrival of current Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein (who celebrated his 30th season in 2015), the Peninsula Symphony grew from a grassroots ensemble to a polished 90-plus member orchestra of well-trained community musicians. The Symphony extended its concert programming to serve the Peninsula’s growing thirst for music by adding annual collaborative concerts at Stanford University, Family Concerts aimed at elementary students and their parents, and free outdoor Summer Concerts. Extensive educational outreach has become a hallmark of the Symphony’s efforts under the Bridges to Music umbrella: frequent musical presentations in underserved schools; preconcert lectures; interactive Salon programs; ensemble performances in libraries and senior centers; talks to community groups; two major competitions for young artists, the Marilyn Mindell Piano Competition and the Young Musicians Competition; high school master classes, often led by the Symphony’s youngest guest artists; and PSOpen Rehearsals.
The Symphony has also taken on a much wider range of programming, including many significant commissions of new works and performances of 20th and 21st century masterpieces, ethnic music, jazz, world music, choral/orchestral masterworks, and multi-media presentations. During the years when the California Arts Council was awarding grants to California orchestras, the Peninsula Symphony was awarded the highest rating possible. The tradition of presenting soloists of international caliber has continued, including Jon Nakamatsu, Franco Gulli, Horatio Guttierez, Jennifer Koh, Garrick Ohlsson, Mark Kosower, John O’Conor, Angel Romero, and many other classical icons, plus jazz artists like Taylor Eigsti, Chris Brubeck, Wesla Whitfield, Quartet San Francisco, and Julian Lage.
For 30 years, the Symphony has presented debut performances of the winners of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition in San Francisco, among the most outstanding young artists in the world. Those musicians have become world-class soloists, Principal players in every top orchestra, and members of the finest chamber ensembles. Following Maestro Sten’s tradition of nurturing young musicians, the Peninsula Youth Orchestra was established in the spring of 1997, with Mitchell Sardou Klein also serving as its Music Director. This ensemble has performed throughout the world in major concert halls and festivals.
Continuing to expand the excitement of the concert experience and reach out to engage the whole community is the challenge of the next phase of growth, as the Peninsula Symphony looks to the future of symphonic music with great enthusiasm.