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HISTORY OF THE SBSO
 

In the Fall of 1929, conductor James “Jimmy” K. Guthrie posited that communities with access to the arts were stronger and more vibrant places than those which lacked this vital resource. Reaching out to musician friends in San Bernardino, Colton, and Los Angeles, he established The Inland Empire Philharmonic Orchestra – today’s San Bernardino Symphony. 

 

Maestro Jay Plowe was selected as the first conductor and Willis winslow was the Assistant Conductor.  Their first concert was held March 14, 1930 and included Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. As today, putting on a concert was an expensive proposition and so in 1931 the first funds drive was held… with a goal of $6,000 (equivalent to $107K today). By the end of the month the goal had not been reached and organizational leaders worried the remainder of the first season would have to be canceled. But by December, funds had been found and a concert was held for an ample crowd gathered at the San Bernardino Municipal Auditorium.All went well and the first Guest Conductor, Dr. Alfred Hertz of the San Francisco Symphony Metropolitan Opera, was introduced in April of 1932. 

 

Over the following years, the orchestra performed throughout the region, much as we do today. Concerts were held at the University of Redlands Memorial Auditorium, San Bernardino public school auditoriums, and churches. Founder Guthrie was busy leading San Bernardino’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” initiative. Interestingly, two of the buildings built as WPA projects were the Auditorium at San Bernardino Valley College where the Symphony now performs several times each year and the adobe campus which would become the Garcia Center for the Arts which is home to Symphony offices.
 

The Symphony performed several concerts each year as a community orchestra under the supervision of Ed Hurlbut of San Bernardino Adult Education. By 1963, orchestra members and organizational leaders who had witnessed the benefits of an orchestra in their community formed an Association to assist in the organization’s growth and development. They named John Pfau (a name you may recognize from the library located on the California State University San Bernardino campus) their first president. A number of excellent conductors and Association leaders – including the region’s first female leader of a non-women-centric organization, Mrs. Ted Eichelberger – set a strong foundation for today’s organizational leaders.

 

Women have, in fact, played a pivotal role in the organization’s success. In 1974, Mrs. Myrtle Bard made a sizable donation to allow the orchestra to begin performances at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts where many concerts have been held ever since. One of the first guest conductors at the new venue was Meredith Willson of “The Music Man” fame!
 

In 1980, the Symphony hired its first paid staff member, coordinated with American Federation of Musicians’ Local 47 for professional musicians, and changed its name to the Inland Empire Symphony. An organization on the way up, concerts were full and music flowed. But then the Recession hit causing huge declines in donations and ticket purchases… and a mid-season cancellation of the two remaining concerts. 

 

But as they had in the past, organizational leaders rallied and found the resources needed to go on. Realizing their small group could not run the organization on their own, a push toward dedicated leadership was initiated in 1984 resulting in the hiring of the first executive director and a musician’s personnel manager. Now with a team of board and staff, the organization began to blossom again. Mr. Frank Plash (the orchestra’s first million dollar donor) began preparing concert program notes, and business offices were established on Court Street. 

 

Throughout the 80s, the Symphony broadened the scope of its repertoire and community outreach. A jazz concert was performed at the National Orange Show, annual concerts began to be performed at the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival, and, in recognition of the region’s growing Latino population, Sinfonia Mexicana was established bringing Latin American orchestras into San Bernardino. Outdoor concerts were held at Seccombe Lake Park and Arrowhead Park bringing thousands into the city each year and chamber groups performed region-wide. Toward the end of the decade, the Symphony incorporated, established a volunteer Guild responsible for fundraising events, the first student volunteer program was established (still on-going as the Symphony Debs & Red Ties), and the Association became the Symphony Board of Directors. And in 1985, the San Bernardino City Unified School District was gifted with a concert for over 1,000 of their students, a practice which continued until 2023.
 

In 1991, Guild docents began an in-schools program called Music in the Schools which would eventually introduce orchestral instruments to over 160,000 students. By the late 1990s, California Theatre managers the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera had closed and the City of San Bernardino Economic Development Agency took over operations of the Symphony’s primary performance venue. Ever seeking to engage music lovers of all genres, the 1990s also saw concerts at California State University San Bernardino starring Vicki Carr and Maya Angelou and a performance by Ballet Africains at the Sturges Auditorium.
 

In 1994, a music rental library named in memory of its donor, James K. Guthrie was opened. Maestro Guthrie intended it to be a source of considerable income for the organization, but leaders felt it would be best used as a cost-efficient source of musical scores for schools and community orchestras who could otherwise not afford the cost of corporate music rentals. Mr. Guthrie passed away in 1996 and we hope he is pleased with how his cherished scores have benefitted many worldwide.

 

The first half of the 2000s also saw growth and change. Sinfonia Mexicana separated from the orchestra, becoming its own non-profit entity. The Board imposed a $500 annual donation on its members. We hosted the Russian National Orchestra. A $77,000 funds drive – the most successful in orchestra history at that time – was held, followed by a $98,000 effort the following year, and $136,000 the year after that. San Bernardino Mayor Judith Valles established an annual city line item donation of $70.000 for orchestra operations and, in thanks, the orchestra’s name was changed to the San Bernardino Symphony. A significant bequest was also received from the Gorian estate. A $45,000 three-year pledge was made by Arrowhead Credit Union. And Evelyn Magnusson donated a grand piano to the Symphony for use at concerts. Still, funding an organization with an expanding number of concerts was an expensive undertaking, and so in 2003, three board members took out personal loans totaling $200,000 to expand the performance season.

In 2006, an Irvine Foundation Capacity Building Grant allowed the Symphony to establish donor and volunteer management systems, purchase a ticket sales hardware system, and provide leadership training to the Board and Executive Director. The following year, leadership was surprised with a $1 million bequest from the estate of longtime board member Frank Plash and established an endowment fund in his honor. Then following year, a bequest was received from the estate of Evelyn Magnusson allowing use of funding whenever Mozart was performed.

 

In 2013, the current Executive Director, Dr, Anne Viricel, was hired and shortly thereafter, the Symphony began the sponsored student ticket program, Classroom to Concert Hall, which has created a pathway for thousands of families to experience concerts. The Symphony also added a second annual free student concert each February thereby doubling the number of students attending to over 3,400. The following year, the Symphony received the Spirit of Yawa Award from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who have remained our most faithful foundation donors.

 

In 2016, under a grant from The Irvine Foundation, the Symphony began two years of “Fine Arts Lunch Breaks” intended to improve public perception about its urban community. In October of 2017, we gave the Southern California Premiere of American composer John Wineglass’s “Big Sur-Night Sun” under the baton of Maestro Anthony Parnther, the first of ten conductor candidates scheduled over two years. The following year, they would commission composer Wineglass to write the first orchestral piece in celebration of San Bernardino’s rich cultural history, “Voices of the West.” Also in 2018, the Symphony received the ICC's inaugural “Non-Profit of the Year” award which was proudly placed in their new offices at the Garcia Center of the Arts at the request of Dr. Ernest “Ernie” Garcia who, as he explained, “already had the best literature, poetry, and ceramics in place at the Center and now needed the best music.”

 

In 2019, the Symphony was bestowed the Association of California Symphony Orchestra’s (ACSO) Kris Sinclair Leadership Award. They would also establish online ticketing software, they would receive news of a $2 million bequest, and, following a two year long international search, Maestro Anthony Parnther would be hired bringing his outstanding talent and energy to the organization. Under his baton, the orchestra’s first ever sold out concerts occurred and the season subscribership grew to patrons from over 50 zip codes.

 

In spring of 2020, the pandemic would cause the cancellation of Symphony concerts, as it did concerts worldwide. But under Maestro Parnther’s leadership and funding from the Federal Government’s Shuttered Venues initiative, three digitally remastered concerts were produced and, later, through special arrangements with AFM Local 47, made available on our website to all. Pandemic closures also affected schools, and so with no way to educate students about orchestral instruments, Symphony Guild docents partnered with music students at California State University San Bernardino and created a series of educational videos for teachers to use in their online classrooms. The videos remain available today for anyone interested in learning more about orchestral instruments.

 

2021 saw the establishment of the San Bernardino Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble, the first wind-specific youth orchestra in the region and the only such ensemble dedicated to the performance of the music of underrepresented composers. 

 

In 2022, the Symphony presented its first season-based Concert Under the Stars (with fireworks) on the state of the art football field at San Bernardino Valley College. Valley is also the space utilized for Youth Wind Ensemble rehearsals and concerts. This venue was selected as it is located in the city’s underserved west side and offers outstanding programs to students for very low tuition. For both programs, the hope is that local students will experience the college while in elementary or high school and later choose to attend making them, in most cases, the first in their families to seek higher education.

 

Last year, the Symphony was honored to receive the inaugural “Community Partner Award” from the San Bernardino City Unified School District. And this year, we have partnered with the District’s after school program to welcome their students and parents to our concerts. Other exciting recent news includes Maestro Parnther’s conducting of Academy Award-winning film Oppenheimer and our inclusion on metal band Avenged Sevenfold’s new album. In line with Jimmy Guthrie’s hope for accessible music and music education, we continually seek to meet our audiences where they are with world class music close to home! As Maestro Parnther says, “This is not what you’d expect!”


CHRONICLE OF CONDUCTORS

Jay Plowe 1929–1933
James K. Guthrie 1935-1961
Joseph Pearlman 1962-Sept.1965
Michael Perriere Jul 1968-May 1976
Rudolph Picardi Sept. 1965-Jun 1968
Meredith Wilson Mar/Apr 1976 (Guest conductor)
Alberto Bolet Oct 1976-1980
Thomas Nee Feb 1981
Gregory Millar Jun 1981-Aug 1982
Dr. Ben Eby Mar 1983, Jul 1983-Feb 1984
Don Th. Jaeger Jan 1983, Fall 1984-1989
Donald Ambroson May 1983
Stewart Robinson 1989-2001
Carlo Ponti, Jr. 2001-2012
Frank Fetta 2013-2017
Conductor Search 2017-2019
Anthony Parnther 2019- Present


CHRONICLE OF BOARD PRESIDENTS

TBA 1929-1962
Dr. John M. Pfau 1963 -1965
Leslie I Harris 1965 -1967
Dr. John M. Pfau 1967 -1970
Allen Gresham 1970 -1971
Maj. Gen. Clyde Mitchell 1971- 1972
Dr. Arthur Jensen 1972- 1974
Mrs. Ted Eichelberger 1974- 1976
Dr. Robert Sprague 1976- 1976
Mrs. William Howard 1976- 1977
Dr. Joseph Thomas 1977- 1978
Hollis Hartley 1978- 1979
Glenn Rymer 1979 -1980 
Cloy Francis 1980 -1981
Evelyn Kravetz 1981- 1983
Jan Mordy 1983 -1984
Gerald Bean 1984 -1989
Allen Gresham 1989 -1993
Dr Irvin Root 1994 -1995
Edward G. Hill 1995 - 2001
Mark Edwards 2001 - 2003
Ann Harris 2003 - 2005
Mary Schnepp 2005 – 2013
Dr. Judith Valles 2013-2017
Dean McVay 2017-2022

Donna Marie Minano 2022-present

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