Virtuosity Matters

This week, a speaker at the Rotary Club noted that we all have to be prepared to do everything differently.  The world is moving on and everything we thought right once is likely to be passed over by other advances.  Long ago, there was a musical entitled “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.”  The title seems apt now. 

I embrace change; however, we need to protect the baby in that bath water.  In the arts, virtuosity still matters.  We can find new ways to present it, but when you sit with an audience watching a fine performance, it can still bring wonderment, even in the stilted world of a darkened theatre with too many mid-priced tuxedos staring back at you. Vivaldi can still entertain you, move you, and make you care a little bit more about something. 

The “how” may be changing but art can still transcend, and marginalizing it misses the point.  San Jose’s arts community struggles as the poor stepchild of the cultural Mecca to our north.  Many here wonder why we even bother to produce art in San Jose.  Even those who are charged with supporting it often ask: why? Why not regionalize it? Go north for art, come south for sports—or, at least, that may become the next stage (watch this space in months to come).

I despair at the lack of regional arts support even while I work at balancing a budget and producing concerts.  The arts in San Jose are wildly undercapitalized and, as such, are constantly vulnerable.  When the San Jose Symphony closed, I wrote an op-ed piece that praised the trustees who gave freely of themselves to try to keep it alive, knowing that they had spent 20 years delivering services that were not economically defendable. In witnessing the debate over the Rep and AMT this past Fall, I saw again how fragile we all are and how easy it is to cast blame on those who try to make the production of art work, rather than figure out why, as a community, virtuosity is seen as having so little value.  Creativity is the calling card of Silicon Valley, except when it comes to the arts.

Virtuosity can exist when the conditions enable it.  There are artists whose talents often deliver stellar works.  Others work in the background and only emerge from the shadows for fleeting moments; but, if those moments are here in San Jose, then perhaps the effort is all worth it.  That audience saw magic and cared.  I see audiences like that often.

I have attended many great programs in San Jose in the opera, dance, theatre, at our symphony, and certainly in our museums.  A few years ago, I watched a Peking Opera performer bring Macbeth to life in the California Theatre. I had no idea what he said, but I knew everything he was feeling and what he was “saying” with his performance.  That artist just debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and returns here this spring as King Lear. Who knows that?  Why?  When will our region care?

Andrew Bales is the President of Symphony Silicon Valley, now in its fifth season.


  1. Mr. Bales,  I believe it was just last week that it was reported that Silicon Valley new money people tend to be seriously philanthropically challenged.  We had a Symphony before SF did, but couldn’t keep it going.  The cost of bailing out the original Symphony would have been pocket change to any of the many bazillionaires who have no problem shelling out money to place trophy homes on ridgetops but can’t seem to let go of a tiny fraction of their fortune to be put toward the greater good.

    THAT is where the problems lie for the arts in San Jose, and why the wealthiest of SJ area citizens absolutely must follow the example being set by our much more classy old money neighbors to the north.

  2. Is everyone is still confused where Silicon Valley’s highly successful companies and wealthy company founders live, work, have friends, and attachments to their community’s

    It is not San Jose  

    The majority of Silicon Valley’s successful people do not live in and have little or no attachment to San Jose but constantly hear negatives about San Jose

    Look up where Silicon Valley’s actual billionaires and millionaires actually live and give their money   Not San Jose especially downtown

    So what are you surprised where they give their millions?

    There is No shortage of money contributed to local exclusive town and city schools, charties and social organizations but only small amounts are given to regional or San Jose groups

    Silicon Valley Leadership Group and SJ / Silicon Valley Chamber constantly criticize San Jose and local newspapers – Mercury News, Business Journal also have little good to say about San Jose and mostly negative –

    San Jose’s ethically challenged leadership, labor issues, questionable city spending, and many scandals and indictments doesn’t make for confidence or a warm feeling about San Jose or our local groups

    If you are like majority of successful Silicon Valley company founders who came from outside San Jose / Bay area to Silicon Valley and after worked 60-80 hour weeks while seeing many startups go under partially due to high cost of doing business in Silicon Valley got lucky with your company’s IPO and got millions / billions

    Ask yourself –

    1) Where would you spend your money?

    – Wouldn’t you buy your house in the hillsides away from some of worst urban traffic jams / noise in exclusive hillside towns – Woodside, Los Altos, Los Gatos etc or desirable cities like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Francisco etc?

    – Wouldn’t you shop / spend money in Palo Alto. Los Gatos etc during week and go to San Francisco’s world class arts, theater, sports teams, shopping, resturants ?

    2) If you were 20-30’s singles or couple who came from Midwest, South or another country and do not intend to stay here after you make your money unless it is in an exclusive local town, city or San Francisco why would you care about San Jose?

    3) Why would you go to San Jose since it does not have comparable activities and has nothing special that you cannot get in your local city or town shopping area?

    San Jose provides mostly workers and middle management, temporary workers, service companies and housing for Silicon Valley but not high end shopping, major league sports, world class arts, entertainment and restaurants which is provided in San Francisco or Silicon Valley’s local wealthy smaller towns and cities

    4) Where would you give your money?

    Silicon Valley founders give to many local town / city groups, Silicon Valley regional and national groups – universities, national foundations and charities – but little to San Jose

    Recent Mercury News stories about our continued mismanaged arts ( REP, etc ) and non profit groups needing more millions in bailouts –    will not make anyone in Silicon Valley companies without local attachments to San Jose willing to make any contributions anytime soon

  3. Tech millionaires don’t live in San Jose – their employees live in San Jose

    Trophy homes on hillsides are not in San Jose but Woodside, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Saratoga etc

    They give to their local schools, non profits and charity groups in their local towns, small cites or San Francisco etc

  4. San Jose Reality (#3) needs to check his facts as well as his grammar as his post is difficult to dissect. Some of his claims just don’t make sense.
    “no high end shopping”…ever hear of Santana Row?
    “no major league sports”…..don’t say that in front of a shark’s fan.
    “no restaurants”…I could list many great ones downtown including Eulipia,Paolos,O.J.‘s etc.
    Bottom line, there are plenty of reasons to live in S.J. and support its art’s groups. Those groups such as SJ Rep, AMT, SJ museum of Art, etc don’t just serve San Jose, they serve the entire Santa Clara i.e. Silicon Valley….and by the way, not all wealthy people need to live in the hills above the common folk.  Many want to enjoy the neighborhoods,communities and people who have made this a great place to live as well as a great place to make money.
    For those of you who just want to hit it big and go back to wherever you came are missing the boat. Even most of those who had the same idea 158 years ago (our original 49ers) had the good sense to stay and build a life in this area.  Engage with your community, don’t just take its gold and leave the diggins.

  5. And just a thought…perhaps we’re seeing the long term effects of removing art and music from the school system.  A generation ago we began the process of slashing school budgets.  Without getting into the whole Prop 13 argument, you can certainly trace the reduction of enrichment courses and “extras” that no longer exist unless you pay for private lessons.  If you don’t raise kids with art and music as part of their daily lives in school, if you don’t make the connection between, say, music and math scores, you reap what you sow.  A population raised without public art will have a hard time supporting public art.  People will fund what they are familiar with, what they have been raised to enjoy and what they feel is a valuable part of life.

  6. factchecker in san jose

    Get real – while many middle class people love San Jose –  we have few stores and restaurants comparable to major US cities like San Francisco, Austin, Dallas,  Boston,  etc

    Many are chains commonly available in wealthy small cities, local towns and suburbs

    San Jose has large city suburban population but small city events, stores, arts and restaurants

    Sharks are great but not ” major league sports “

    Many great reasons for middle class people to live and stay in San Jose but not for Silicon Valley’s millionaires and billionaires most of which are not from, have any attachment to or living in San Jose

  7. Several thoughts here:

    There are some notable exceptions to the “Wealthy Silicon Valley Tightwad” stereotype. The Sobrato, Lucas and Fox families come to mind. Isn’t it ironic that they did not directly make their money through tech? It’s also noted that these families have roots in the community. Perhaps with the graying of dot com wealth there will be the kind of largesse seen in other “old money” cities?

    Is it possible that many donors are still feeling nervous from the mismanagement scandals that plagued United Way, the Rep and the San Jose Symphony? Add to that the abysmal track record of KTEH and we have seen some of the Valley’s most visible nonprofits sucking up dollars that provide little or no return. For that the nonprofit community has to take some of the blame. Boards of Directors need to do more than lend their names and attend meetings. They must provide oversight and not turn a blind eye to obvious problems. 

    Shouldn’t the Valley’s middle class share responsibility with the wealthy for supporting arts and charitable institutions? While a strong case can be made for the super-rich to write big checks, it’s arguably the families living in those $800-thousand dollar 3-bedroom tract homes that benefit the most living in a community with a strong arts presence.  If you can afford payments on the SUV you can afford to buy a few tickets, make a donation or buy a seat at a fundraiser to support museums, performing arts, or non-profits.

    One final thought: It’s nice to read Andrew’s comments in SJI. He is to be congratulated for his many contributions to our community. Keep up the good work!

  8. Oh, I stand corrected then.  All of these high tech fat cats are contributing to the Los Gatos Symphony, the Woodside Ballet,  The Los Altos Hills Rep, etc etc.

    Come on, everybody knows that outside of a few homes in the poshest section of the Rose Garden, the execs don’t live in San Jose.  Duh.  Just like few celebs have a Los Angeles address either.  But you can bet those celebs are attending concerts at the Disney Hall and their Oscar night at Kodak, catching exhibits at LACMA or MOCA, all of which are located within the LA city limits. 

    It’s no different here, folks.  The facilities are in San Jose, DOWNTOWN San Jose, and that’s where the tiny speck of current philanthropic action is aimed.

  9. Andrew,

    I have read this thought before that creative engineers working on technical problems should somehow equate to strong support of the arts in Silicon Valley.

    My experience working with many engineers would lead me to believe there no link between engineering talent and interest in the arts.

  10. Judging from the average age of those who patronize and support the fine arts in this town, and thinking about how the arts are struggling for appreciation and support;  a few thoughts come to mind.

    People are seldom born with an appreciation for the finer arts; God knows I wasn’t.  It’s an acquired taste developed through exposure and the process of understanding and discovery.  Those who value and patronize the arts had some exposure or personal interest they bring to these venues; and such exposure and experience for the young seems to be increasingly nonexistent for any number of understandable and complex reasons. 

    When I was a child, such works as Peter and the Wolf, Grand Canyon Suite and The William Tell Overture opened the door to my understanding of good music.  The explanation of how various instruments together with composition paint pictures, describe action, and tell a stories.  It only took a few hours, but the impressions have lasted a life time.  I wonder how many young people today have that kind of opportunity. 

    Our schools or special programs would be a great place for such early exposure.  Given a chance to see first hand the instruments, hear their unique sound and how each through music can create images, moods and tell stories can create lasting impressions. Children and young adults alike would be enriched by the experience; and some of those young might just be enough to keep the fine arts alive and well in San Jose.

    Such a program or series of events could be expanded to include the finest music of other cultures as well.  After all, is this not part of a meaningful and lasting education?

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