Down in the Boondocks

When I read that the San Francisco Symphony plans to come to San Jose on October 5 and play a free concert in Chavez Plaza, I jumped for joy. They are also increasing their number of performances at the Flint Center next season by adding three family concerts, and the symphony’s Youth Orchestra will present Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” in the California Theater on December 15. This is exactly the type of regional approach that we need to take here in Bay Area. How lucky we are to have our neighboring world-class orchestra coming here to play an absolutely free concert for our community and picking up the $100,000 tab themselves.

Unfortunately, it appears that there are some misguided souls who equate this with some sort of deadly foreign invasion and who say we should defend our “territory” from Attila Tilson Thomas and his gang. A front page article, no less, by Richard Scheinin in Tuesday’s Mercury News, suggests that there are actually some local self-appointed protectionists, including some musicians who should know better, who think this is Symphony Silicon Valley territory and having the S. F. Symphony here will have an adverse effect on attendance at the local orchestra’s and opera’s events. This is exactly the kind of provincial “thinking” that makes some people consider San Jose the boondocks.

Fortunately, Symphony Silicon Valley President Andrew Bales’s quoted response to this notion shows that he has no time for this kind of misguided and wrongheaded criticism. Like other large urban area arts professionals, he knows that the more cultural events we have in our region, the better—it raises the level of consciousness of the arts in general. This is not a competition. The San Francisco Symphony is one of the oldest in the country and rates up there with the L.A. Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. They have an incredible repertoire and range, including the kind of adventurous programming that Symphony Silicon Valley, good as it is, cannot even approach at present. That gives us fringe dwellers a chance to hear something new and unusual without having to find a parking place up in the core.

It’s easy to dismiss this matter as yet another storm in our teacup, but we must guard against this type of ridiculous territorial squabbling that could result in our city being written off as a no-go area for the very best arts groups. That would really be going in the wrong direction. In the meantime, I heartily welcome the San Francisco Symphony to our corner of the region and I look forward to receiving their gift of a free concert as much as I look forward to next season’s musical programs at the California Theatre and La Petit Trianon.

And, while we are on the subject, wouldn’t it be great if Symphony Silicon Valley could do concert swaps with other regional orchestras, like Berkeley and Redwood City? Our orchestra takes its concerts there and the others bring theirs here. Then we could have many more concerts and hear a much wider range of music performed locally, and all the orchestras would be able to offer their musicians more work. That would be a win-win for everyone.


  1. Thanks Jack.  I’m waiting for the Santa Clara Bloggist to wade in with his opionions about San Jose as he always does.  Jack you are absolutely right.  If we get a chance to have a world renown symphony orchestra perform for us here, we are certainly fortunate.  Hope they come back.

  2. I wanted to add a sidebar to the comments Jack wrote, not to dispute them but to offer a slightly different context.  It is true that I am institutionally not concerned about a few added South Bay services by our esteemed neighbor to the north.  It shows a solid appetite for classical music here which I have always felt was strong.  If we each continue to offer quality programs we should both prosper.

    The bigger question and one raised by the head of the local musician’s union is that jobs could be at stake here.  I founded Symphony Silicon Valley as much to serve the local audience as to insure that we do have employment for top quality musicians here.  It is not a symphony issue but a cultural one—culture with a capital C.  Musicians are backbone artists.  They play symphonies , but they also perform for the opera, the ballet, for musicals.  They are the bulk of top ranking instrument teachers both in classrooms and privately.  Without local musician employment we would lose a musical heritage and standards of all our performing arts and much of our arts education. 

    When you mention the boondocks, a community without these players is a community with little upside.  Fortunately that is not true today. Symphony Silicon Valley welcomes added classical music services, but cherishes our own musicians and the services they provide the South Bay.  That union leader was doing her job. She was citing with alarm the signal of what might be if only one of these institutions survived.  There is no imminent threat, but if a South Bay philanthropic rush flooded to our sexy neighbor to the north, it could be worrisome.  For now, let’s just hear more music played well.

  3. Sounds like these misguided and self-appointed types have been hanging around with Peter Magowen too much.

    Nice one re: the Santa Clara blogger, NSJ.  Even though the political and cultural mindset in SC would never in a million years accomodate a symphony there, I’m sure this thread’s subject matter won’t prevent him from ranting about something unrelated.

  4. Our friend from the Mission City will no doubt interpret this as somehow supporting something that he doesn’t want to have happen, or wanted to happen six months ago, or wants to prevent happening, or….


    Perhaps instead he’ll just accuse all of us here on SJI of cruelty to animals because “Peter And The Wolf” is to be performed at the FoxCal – and that he had several conversations with elected officials who expressed their concern about that very subject but instead of speaking out decided to accede to the depredations of Mayor Reed and his sooper seekrit string-pullers in return for primo seats at the performance of Comrade Prokofiev’s masterpiece.

    What can we say?  That’s just how we roll here at SJI.

  5. No good deed goes unpunished seems to be how many people in San Jose act, always looking for the downside or what is wrong rather than working together to improve our city

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