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Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra Continues to Have Deep Roots in the Community

By S. Mathur

The Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was formed in 1933 with community support in order "to the relieve the musically parched condition locally," as a contemporary editorial in the Bakersfield Californian put it. Public musical performances at that time were limited to churches, the high school and the occasional recital by a visiting opera singer traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There was however a community of music lovers and many music studios located in private homes.

The first concert by the symphony orchestra was the result of efforts by the student president of the High School Musician's Club, Kathryn McMahan, and the high school director Harold J. Burt. With over sixty musicians, and a repertoire that proposed to include works by Wagner, Schubert, Haydn, Berlioz and Mendelssohn, the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra officially came into existence on April 17, 1933. It was welcomed editorially by the Californian: "With the making of the orchestra into a permanent organization, it is hoped by music lovers of the community that it will strike roots into the artistic life of the city."

It did indeed strike deep roots in the community and is now in its 85th season. Each season includes six concerts, with guest artists and soloists visiting from around the world. The first concert of the season features a Van Cliburn Piano finalist, chosen at the prestigious international piano competition held once every four years in Fort Worth, TX. Special concerts are added throughout the year, including holiday-themed music.

The BSO continues to grow, with new Music Director Stilian Kirov. Mr. Kirov graduated from the Juilliard School. He is also a gifted pianist, and was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2001 Claude Kahn International Piano Competition in Paris. Upcoming performances include a season finale concert titled 'Love and War' with nineteen-year-old violinist Simone Porter, and a Havana Nights-themed Gala Evening.

With a mission to provide the best possible performances of great music for the widest possible audience, and to provide musical education for the young people of Kern County, BSO programs reach out to young people in a number of different ways. Executive Assistant Elizabeth Kresha explains: "Through our partnerships with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the Bakersfield City School District we have inspired young people to have a lifetime love for music. The BSO performs three themed concerts each season which are specifically designed for young audiences and meet scholastic standards set by the State of California."

Student Outreach programs include BSO NEXT, which introduces students from local schools to live symphonic music, with free concert tickets, a pre-concert meet and greet with the conductor, and a snack. The Young People's Concert series hosts elementary and secondary school students and teachers from across Kern County. The Kids Discover Music program brings BSO musicians to the classroom to perform and to discuss their music, their instruments and the hard work and dedication involved in playing with a symphony orchestra.

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