La Jolla Symphony

Genre: Classical

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The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Association is a performance ensemble affiliated with the University of California, San Diego, which performs six concert weekends each year at UCSD's Mandeville Auditorium, and special performances at other venues in Southern California. The LJSCA is an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation, comprised of volunteer musicians from all walks of life, including UCSD students, staff, and faculty, as well as professional musicians -- a diverse group with exceptional talent and passion for the music it performs.

The mission of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus is to enrich the cultural life of San Diego through professional-caliber, financially accessible concerts of ground-breaking, traditional, and contemporary classical music. The LJS&C provides educational outreach to the community by bringing students to open rehearsals, concerts, and music clinics. Through our Young Artists Competition and Thomas Nee Commission for new compositions, we also provide young musicians and composers with rare professional performance opportunities.

In 1954 a Bulgarian conductor who had spent most of his career in China had an idea. Peter Nicoloff had been chased out of China by the Communist Revolution, and now he found himself in La Jolla. He was a conductor without an orchestra, and he wondered if it would be possible to put together an orchestra of nonprofessional musicians from La Jolla who would play just for fun. Nicoloff assembled those players, and on November 11, 1954 he led them in what was modestly called "an open rehearsal."

No one at that rehearsal could have foreseen the growth potential in that tiny band of amateur musicians. Over the next half century, that orchestra (which eventually became the La Jolla Symphony) would give over 700 concerts, grow in size to 100 players, make recordings, commission new music, give premieres, and play concerts throughout San Diego County. But in those early years, the La Jolla Civic Orchestra (as it was first known) remained small, and Nicoloff -- a gifted painter and gourmet cook -- struggled to make it succeed. He resigned after 11seasons, and the orchestra -- which was struggling financially at that point -- might easily have drifted into oblivion and been forgotten.

Help arrived from an unexpected source. The University of California was establishing a campus in San Diego, and its new Music Department wished to sponsor an orchestra. The proposal was made for the department to join forces with the existing community orchestra, and out of that partnership a new ensemble was born, eventually renamed the La Jolla Civic-University Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra's new conductor came from the Midwest. Thomas Nee was born in Illinois and trained in Minneapolis, and he had been assistant conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Demanding, inspiring (and often very funny), Tom Nee set out to transform the orchestra -- he increased the number of players, raised standards, and championed new music.

The character of the orchestra changed in these years, as well: now its ranks included UCSD students, its concerts moved from Sherwood Auditorium to Mandeville Auditorium, and it was renamed once again -- now it became the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra. During the 1960s, the orchestra acquired a sister organization, the La Jolla Symphony Chorus, and the union created one of the few orchestra-and-chorus associations in the nation. In 1973 David Chase took over that chorus and began to develop it into the ensemble we know today.

After 31 years as music director Tom stepped down, and his replacement also had roots in the Midwest. Born in Iowa, Harvey Sollberger was a man of many talents: composer, conductor, new-music specialist, and virtuoso flutist. He took the La Jolla Symphony in directions of his own. He brought in a number of new players, set high standards, and explored repertory that even this adventurous orchestra had never played. It is typical of Harvey that his first concert as music director should have included both The Rite of Spring and music by Ravi Shankar. Harvey will complete his tenure as music director in 2005, and already the orchestra is searching for the conductor who will lead the way into its second half century.


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