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Modesto, Stockton, Merced Symphonies Deliver Enthralling Classical Music

The Northern San Joaquin Valley is alive with the sound of music.

That’s contrary to the naysayers who act as if there is a cultural desert between the Altamont Pass and the Range of Light.

Not only does the Brubeck Institute of Music — named after legendary jazz pioneer Dave Brubeck — flourish here having been established at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, but there is a repertoire of styles and genres alive and well. They can be found in the night spots of trendy downtown Modesto as well as at venues such as the Fruit Yard in Modesto to cozy settings such as the Red Tie Arts concerts at Lucca Winery in Ripon. That doesn’t count the wide range of music offered by community bands, university and college programs, as well as at street festivals.

And if you measure a region by its breadth of classic offerings of note, the 209 has three professional symphony companies — the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, the Stockton Symphony, and the Merced Symphony.

The smallest of the three — the Merced Symphony — performs at the restored downtown Merced Theatre. The Stockton Symphony performs in the spacious 1,400-seat Warren Atherton Auditorium at Delta College. And the Modesto Symphony calls the impressive 1,248-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater that is part of the impressive Gallo Center for the Performing Arts in Modesto its home.


Modesto Symphony

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra recently launched its 89th season.

The 2019-2020 lineup features concert selections appealing to traditionalists and those that are enthralled more about music scoring a visual presentation whether it is acrobats or animated cartoon scenes.

The next two presentations have a holiday theme.

The Holiday Pops! concert on Friday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m. features holiday favorites. Joining the Modesto Symphony is the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Youth Chorus.

The Holiday Candlelight Concert is one of several that take place at other venues than the Gallo Center. It is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m., at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. It features traditional Christmas hymns and carols. The Symphony is joined not just by the Modesto Symphony Chorus and Youth Chorus but also the Opus Handbell Ensemble.

Clips from Pixar favorites such as Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo take on new life with the symphonic multimedia presentation for the Pixar in Concert event. Last year’s presentation was a smash hit with both the young and young at heart. Pixar in Concert takes place Friday, Jan. 24, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m.

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto: Russian Romantics & Storytelling is a classic endeavor featuring accomplished pianist Stephen Hough who has appeared with most of the major European and American orchestras. The concert is Friday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

That’s Entertainment! — a celebration of the Hollywood film musical — is part of the Pop Series. The concert takes place on Friday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Violinist Ade Williams and viola artist Juan-Miguel Hernandez joins the orchestra for Mozart & Mendelssohn: A Symphonic Tour of Europe. It takes place Friday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Carmina Burana: Fortune, Love & Fate is being presented Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. It is billed as the biggest classic concert of the season. In addition to the symphony as well as its chorus and youth chorus it also features the CSU Stanislaus Chorale and Chamber Singers highlighting Jennifer Bromagen, soprano; Timir, tenor; and Lee Poulis, baritone.

The Cirque de la Symphonic that combines classical favoritism with dazzling aerials and acrobats is Friday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m.

The Picnic at the Pops! — a classical mystery tour tribute to the Beatles — takes place on the expansive grounds of the E&J Gallo Winery. The Saturday, Sept. 9 concert marks the 50th anniversary of the Abbey Road album. Pack a picnic for this one. The grounds open at 4 p.m. and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m.

In addition to season tickets and individual concert sales, the Modesto Symphony offers multiple package concerts. Depending upon the location you can obtain tickets to three concerts for $60 to $258 a seat or four concerts for $80 to $334 a seat for those taking place at the Gallo Center.

Tickets can be purchased at the Gallo Center Box office, 1000 I St., Modesto, by calling 209-338-2100 or at


Stockton Symphony

The Stockton Symphony kicked off its 93rd season in September.

There are three remaining concerts in the Classics Series.

Tributes featuring guest artist Bella Hristiva on the violin includes Chris Brubeck’s “The Time Out Suite”, Sibelus’ “Violin Concerto”, and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” It takes place Saturday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m.

Guest artist Caitlyn Smith Franklin performs on the French horn for the “Timeless Treasures” concert on Saturday, March 21 at 6 p.m. The program includes George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings”, Richard Strauss’ “Horns Concerto No. 1”, and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”

Then on Saturday, April 18 at 6 p.m. the “Romantic Adventure” concert features pianist Roberto Plano. The program features Alex Orfaly’s “Special Commission, World Premiere”, Linszt’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”, and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5”.

Remaining Pop Series concerts includes Holiday Pops with the Mark O’Connor Band and Stockton Chorale as guest artists. It takes place Sunday, Dec. 15 at 2:30 p.m.

Illusionist Michael Grandinetti brings his magic set to music to the pops concert on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

“Bette, Babs, & Beyond” — a salute to Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Cher, and Janis Joplin plus other iconic women who have defined music for six decades — takes place Sunday, May 3 at 2:30 p.m. Guest vocalists are Scott Coutler, John Boswell, Alex Getlin, and Natalie Douglas.

Ticket information is available at


Merced Symphony

The Merced Symphony started its 62nd season in October.

The symphony is staging its first Holiday Candlelight Concert on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The Pops Concert on Friday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. features “Rhapsody in Blue” as well as “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin.

The season finale highlighting Beethoven’s Ninth is set for Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket information can be found at