Mission/Leadership/History

Mission

Our mission is: through live performances and stimulating music education programs, to share the beauty and inspiration of classical music with Southern California audiences, giving special focus to Latino communities that are underserved and underrepresented by the arts.

Over the last two decades, Santa Cecilia Orchestra has grown to become a cultural force in Los Angeles. Our great accomplishment is not only to make magnificent music but also to make that music accessible to nontraditional audiences, particularly underserved Latinos who are often ignored by the cultural giants in the city. Our concerts are presented in venues near some of the most impoverished and violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles. And our outreach programs take instruments and musicians into schools in those same neighborhoods.

Leadership

Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s commitment to a mission that combines music and access has created a leadership role in the cultural life of Los Angeles.

  • We’ve taken the lead in removing barriers to performances in order to build a large non-traditional audience for classical music.
  • We’ve created a reputation for consistently exceptional and distinct programming.
  •  We’re the only symphony orchestra in the nation with a specific mission to bring classical music to Latino communities.
  •  We’ve been successful in opening avenues of communication, artistic expression, self-actualization, and community understanding and harmony.
  • Through artistic expression, our music has helped bridge gaps – ethnic, economic, social, cultural – to create stronger, better and more resilient communities.

History

Conductor Sonia Marie De León de Vega founded the orchestra in 1992, naming it after the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia. However, the naming of the orchestra has a deeper history. De León de Vega’s father, singer-guitarist Reynaldo Sanchez, had a devotion to Saint Cecilia, praying to her before every performance. His dying wish was to visit the tomb of Saint Cecilia in Rome, with his daughter. The two went together in 1990 and he visited the tomb in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, where he sang “De Colores” in tribute to the saint. He died two weeks later from cancer at the age of 56. De León de Vega founded the orchestra and decided to name it after Saint Cecilia, in memory of her father.

Santa Cecilia Orchestra was built primarily to help fill a major gap in classical music – the lack of significant outreach to underprivileged areas, where access to and knowledge of classical music is often very limited. It is with this in mind that the orchestra has developed its repertoire.

Started with De León de Vega’s own money, the orchestra’s first performance was in St. Ignatius Church in Highland Park, Los Angeles. De León recalls, “There were 28 musicians onstage, the altar area. We had about 12 people in the audience. It wasn’t a great start. That’s just the way it is. It takes lots and lots of work. I found out you can’t just put on a concert and expect people to show up.”

Persevering through the challenges of its early years, the orchestra played in a variety of venues, from Eagle Rock and Highland Park to Downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Thorne Hall at Occidental College finally became the permanent residence of the orchestra beginning with the 1999-2000 season. Currently, 85 orchestra members play for Santa Cecilia Orchestra.

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Previous Seasons (only last 8 years are listed)

2006-07 Season

A season with two great soloist talents, its six concerts wove together a motley but related assortment of music, such as Beethoven with flamenco, and Vivaldi with tango. The second concert of the season saw celebrated flamenco artist Maria Bermudez perform “De Falla” and “El Amor Brujo” alongside the equally fiery Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven). Next, New Zealand violinist Mark Menzies played a very diverse program, with works by Corelli, Vivaldi and Stravinsky alongside works by tango composers Martin Loyato and Astor Piazzolla. The season also featured performances of opera arias, Boccherini and Desyatnikov, as well as a rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

2007-08 Season

Mixing modern and traditional, the ’07-’08 season first combined Bach, Prokofiev, and Janacek, then moved to a recital of Vivaldi concerti alongside works of Górecki, Holst and Hovhannes with soloists Danielle Belen Nesmith and Salpy Kerkonian. A second Santa Cecilia concert incorporated Mexican and American compositions (José Pablo Moncayo and Carlos Chávez with Barber and Copland), with Deborah Buck as soloist. Then, Santa Cecilia held a chamber music concert with music by Tchaikovsky, Françaix, and Schubert. The season ended with a grand finale, featuring Handel and Vivaldi concertos, followed by Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto, Pärt’s Festina Lente, and a Dvořák serenade. Julie Feves and Sarah Beck appeared as soloists.

2008-09 Season

In a very dynamic season for the orchestra, the first concert focused on Latin American music. Spain, Argentina and Mexico combined through the music of Piazzolla, Manuel De Falla, Silvestre Revueltas, Arturo Márquez and Blas Galindo, with Bryan Pezzone as piano soloist. The theme for the next concert was “Consuming Passion” and reveled in the evocative power of the Romantic period. Beethoven’s Coriolanus Overture, Bruch’s first violin concerto, and Brahms’ 4th Symphony all featured Elena Urioste, winner of the 2007 Sphinx Competition, as violin soloist. “Coming to America” was another concert’s theme, in reference to Dvořák’s 9th Symphony. Accompanying this majestic piece were Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and a chaconne by Chávez, with Robert Edward Thies as pianist. The season also included three chamber music concerts, one with the Formalist Quartet alongside Kudirka and James Sullivan playing clarinet, and a presentation of poetry set to music (mostly composed by local musicians David Roitstein and Jacques Ibert). Mark Menzies returned to the season program with other soloists Maurita Phillips-Thornburgh and John Veloz in a largely Baroque concert, with Bach’s Mass in B at the heart of a performance also including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Biber’s Sonata Representativa and Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock.

2009-10 Season

The orchestra started the season by celebrating the Saint Cecilia Feast Day, performing a Vivaldi Concerto, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Further exemplifying its multi-cultural repertoire, the orchestra offered a concert titled “Baroque Meets Brazil” which mixed Vivaldi and Bach with the Bachianas Brasileiras of Villa-Lobos. Then, to commemorate Mexico’s 200th anniversary of independence, and the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, the orchestra staged a production of works by famous Mexican composers Chávez, Galindo, Márquez and Moncayo. The orchestra also played two chamber music concerts, one with guitarist Michael Kudirka and the Formalist Quartet, and the other featuring Mexican chamber music.

2010-11 Season

The season opened with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Brahms’ 5th Symphony and Vieuxtemps’ 5th Violin Concerto with Danielle Belen as violinist. Santa Cecilia’s next concerts mixed an array of virtuosity, with Yi-Huan Zhao, Beth Park-Zhao, and Natasha Marin playing an assortment of Rachmaninov, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Piazzolla and John Williams – mixing Baroque, Romantic, and tango flair. The finale also celebrated Mexico, but with a focus on the music of Daniel Catán and finished with Silvestre Revueltas’ Noche de los Mayas.

2011-12 Season

The Romantic period opened Santa Cecilia’s season with Brahms’ 2nd, Mendelssohn’s St. Paul Overture, and Bruch’s Concerto for Clarinet and Viola (with orchestra members as soloists: Lauren Chipman playing viola and Michael Arnold playing clarinet). The next concert featured Dvořák’s 7th and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, for which Bryan Pezzone returned as pianist. The season ended with a Latino fanfare, representing artists Piazzolla, Ginastera, Chávez, Galindo, and Márquez.

2012-13 Season

Commemorating its 20th Anniversary, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra presented Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto (Robert Thies, pianist) and Brahms’ 1st Symphony. That was followed by a concert that combined Corelli and Vivaldi’s Baroque playfulness with Piazzolla tango pieces, as well as string pieces by Tchaikovsky and Mozart. To end the anniversary year, the final concert included American compositions by Peter Ash and Tzaikerk by Torke and Hovhaness and finished with Beethoven’s majestic 7th Symphony.

2013-14 Season

The 2013-14 season featured three concerts, each focusing on its own major theme. Santa Cecilia Orchestra’s first performance celebrated the centenary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct with a rendition of Handel’s “Water Music” accompanied by pieces from “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Gluck, and ending with Beethoven’s triumphant 5th Symphony. In the second concert, titled “Spellbound,” De León led the orchestra to perform pieces by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky with two works by Márquez. Ending on a high note, the “Heroic” themed finale opened with several opera arias sung by bass baritone Cedric Berry, followed by Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony.