Season includes new pieces, old favorites ushered in with fanfare
By Calvin Nuttall
As the South Valley Symphony marks half a century of enchanting audiences, anticipation builds for a remarkable anniversary season titled “Fanfares for the 50th.”
Music lovers will enjoy the rousing compositions of artists new and old, presented by the diverse and talented members of the orchestra.
The season consists of four concerts. The Oct. 8 (Dreams Come True) and May 12 (A 50th Finale) will be held at Guglielmo Winery. The Dec. 16 (Holiday Celebration) and March 9 (NextGen Youth) will be at Gavilan College.
In keeping with the theme of the season, each will begin with a fanfare, a powerful attention-getting piece that ushers in the evening’s musical event by infusing the audience with a sense of awe and anticipation.
Anthony Quartuccio, the conductor and music director for the symphony since 2006, said the 50th anniversary of SVS is something to celebrate. The group has survived and thrived through the years in spite of difficult times, especially during COVID-19.
“The orchestra’s ability to endure is simply a result of a very strong sense of community,” he said. “That is what has kept it all together. Orchestras all across this country come and go, and their survival is generally pinned to economic stability and financial support. We’re not a rich orchestra by any means, but we do have a sense of community that has sustained us. For me, being part of that community has been the most important and satisfying part of my job.”
For this special season, the orchestra prepared a few surprises for its audience, Quartuccio said.
“It’s got a little bit of something for everybody,” he said. “Something old and something new. We asked people what they wanted to hear and the orchestra what they wanted to play.”
Audiences can expect repeats of favorite pieces from the past, including holiday classics and alternate versions of songs the symphony has played before. Concerts will also include new scores the musicians have never attempted.
“We are going to do some pieces that the orchestra has really wanted to play for a long time,” Quartuccio said. “Those pieces include, for our first concert, ‘Pictures at an Exhibition,’ by Mussorgsky. They’ve had that request on my desk for quite a while, and this is the year we’ve decided we’re going to go for it.”
The symphony has played “Pictures” before, but this time they will be doing the original Ravel orchestration for large orchestras, accompanied by a brand-new graphical display.
“It’s not just music, it’s an event,” Quartuccio said.
Another piece that has been on the orchestra’s wish list was composed by Florence Price, a prolific late-20th century musician. She has the distinction of being the first recognized African-American symphonic composer.
“There is really a rediscovery of Florence’s work going on,” Quartuccio said. “She is getting played all over the world, and she is really fantastic.”
Robert Howe, the president of SVS’s board of directors and the orchestra’s first cellist, said Quartuccio’s leadership of the symphony has contributed much to its success during the past two decades.
“I have heard this over and over again from all the musicians, that our appreciation for Tony and his leadership is super strong,” Howe said. “He is an extremely collaborative conductor. He does listen to feedback during a rehearsal and accommodates it as best as he can knowing what he needs to get through. It is a very synergistic relationship.”
This collaborative leadership style is contrary to the “dictatorial” approach of many classical composers, Quartuccio said, including his own training. In spite of that, he believes it is essential for fostering a community of musicians for their long-term success.
“No leader can purchase genuine enthusiasm,” he said. “Enthusiasm is a gift that people have, and a good leader will never ever shoot down somebody’s enthusiasm — you just channel it. As a musician I try to use that philosophy all the time. People sometimes come up to me with ideas that I think are really bad, but that doesn’t mean that their enthusiasm for the idea is misguided. Never shoot it down. Acknowledge it and see where you can take it.”
A point of pride for the symphony is in its engagement and promotion of young musicians, Quartuccio said. The upcoming season includes a piece adapted by Chris Niemann, a local composer and Gavilan College graduate, who also composed a full symphony in honor of Gavilan’s 100th anniversary in 2019, which premièred just days before COVID lockdowns began.
Another SVS success story, Quartuccio said, is Miguel Ledezma, the orchestra’s principal trombonist. Ledezma first joined the symphony while attending West Valley Community College.
“I didn’t know what kind of musician I was. I just knew I liked playing music,” he said. “Chris Niemann invited me to play with the orchestra once, and I fell in love with the community and culture. Then, as I became more mature and started developing more as a musician, the orchestra really helped me grow.”
Ledezma went on to receive a master’s in music education from the University of Puget Sound in Washington. He also became the principal trombonist for the Seattle Philharmonic. He has since returned to the South Bay to work as a music teacher at Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose. He aspires to become an assistant conductor with SVS.
“He has learned how to conduct at a professional level,” Quartuccio said. “He will likely become an apprentice or assistant conductor to our orchestra at some point. It’s a great success story.”
Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.