Music on the Move

Peninsula Symphony starts 2014 on a high note.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Zoe Alexander

This is a big year for the Peninsula Symphony. In addition to celebrating their 47th season, they return to their original home base, Redondo Union High School, after a 30-year run at Rolling Hills Covenant Church. 

It is an exciting venue shift, as 2010 renovations to the auditorium modernized the lobby, seating and acoustics. Best of all, this location allows them to broaden their audience.

The symphony is a cultural gem of the South Bay. The nonprofit collective is comprised of local community and professional musicians with a broad range of backgrounds—from Juilliard graduates to those who work on soundtrack recordings for the film and television industry. Several of the musicians are second-generation members, having literally grown up with the company. 

One of the symphony’s directors, Carol Schamp, describes the caliber of their musicians: “When I have people who come to hear us who go to the LA Phil, they are absolutely astounded at the quality of our musicians.”

"The symphony is a cultural GEM OF THE SOUTH BAY.”

The symphony was founded in 1967 by Maestro Joseph Valenti, who also cultivated its generous mission. “In an area such as the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which glories in its wide view of the Pacific and the long view of its own future, it is inevitable that the creative arts should flourish and that the idea of a locally-sponsored symphony organization should evolve,” the conductor emeritus once said. 

After Valenti’s death, an extensive yearlong search for a replacement kicked off. In July 2009, Gary Berkson was named music director/conductor. 

Maestro Berkson, along with his wife, relocated from Sweden to pick up the baton and, admittedly, to “thaw out.” 

An LA native and a graduate of Juilliard, Gary has an extensive background that includes time as resident conductor of the Royal Swedish Ballet, serving 10 years as head of the opera division at the Royal Swedish Opera House, and many international symphony credits. This background explains the sophisticated stamp that he places on the symphony’s repertoire. Carol says that Gary “also tries to introduce new music—in addition to the romantic pieces we all love by Mozart and Mendelssohn—and includes a piece that stretches us.” 

Gary says he was initially drawn to Palos Verdes as it offered a unique opportunity “to be a part of a community so dedicated to supporting classical music.” Building on that support, he is eager for neighboring beach cities to enjoy the symphony.

In addition to growing their audience beyond Palos Verdes, the Peninsula Symphony wants to build awareness of their youth programs that allow kids to take classes from, and perform with, masters. The programs consist of a recently created youth orchestra in partnership with Harbor College (no musical training nor instrument is required to join, for children up to 18 years old); a Mozart program for elementary school children; and The Edith Knox Youth Competition (for children and young adults up to age 25). 

Despite community and educational arts programs struggling under budgetary constraints, the Peninsula Symphony remains dedicated to bringing free classical music to the South Bay and ensuring its future in mentoring young musicians. Let’s all wish them the best in their 47th season and support them for many more to come.

Those who know of The Red Violin, the celebrated 1998 film about the lore of the Red Mendelssohn violin made by Antonio Stradivari … take note! On February 2, Peninsula Symphony’s program will feature soloist Elizabeth Pitcairn, owner of one of the famed Stradivarius violins, which was given to her by her grandfather for her 16th birthday.