Lodi pianist Ester Roche began performing with the Stockton Symphony as a child.

Lodi pianist Ester Roche began performing with the Stockton Symphony as a child.

Youth Song of Stockton

Stockton Symphony's sellout concerts — and program cuts

Back Article Jan 1, 2010 By Christine Calvin

Financial donations to the 83-year-old Stockton Symphony are down sharply, yet shows are selling out. In an effort to make up for programming lost to the recession, Maestro Peter Jaffe and his musicians are revamping their 13-year-old youth outreach efforts and now perform for up to 5,000 elementary schoolchildren weekly. That’s in addition to hosting more than eight concerts a year.

“Education is very dear to our hearts and mission, and we spend about 10 percent of our budget on educational programs,” Jaffe says. “These programs have a heightened sense of importance these days as schools are struggling to maintain arts programming.”

The symphony’s largest educational program is Steppin’ Out, which offers fourth- and fifth-graders the chance to attend a live concert for $5. The students are transported from their schools to the concert hall, and it includes a curriculum packet to prepare students for the concert experience. “It’s a great program for schools and obviously brings an enthusiastic audience,” says keyboardist Esther Roche.

The symphony has been able to maintain its scholarship opportunities, which are open to high school seniors, and offer financial assistance for college. But 60 percent of the symphony’s $1.25 million budget comes from donations, those numbers have dipped and other programs have been cut, Jaffe says.

The symphony’s annual family concert series has been suspended the past few years because of the economy. The organization would like to see the program reinstated, but it’s lost five figures worth of sponsorships. Tied to the family concert series, the youth concerto competition has also been suspended.

It’s where musicians like Roche got their starts. As a child, the  Lodi resident auditioned for the youth concerto and won the chance to perform with the symphony during the family concert series.

“We have had to consolidate and tighten the belt in a lot of ways,” Jaffe says. “Things have been really tough. We are enthusiastic about what we bring and our educational program and concerts, but like everyone else, we are trying to recover financially.”

The third-oldest continuously performing orchestra in California, the Stockton Symphony consistently sells out its shows. Each year it commissions at least one world premier and, before every show, offers educational discussions about that evening’s music.

“One of the great things about music, and especially live music, is the way it brings people together,” Roche says.

It’s largely for that reason that Jaffe, Roche and theatergoers suspect the symphony’s pains are temporary. Jaffe says his future dreams are set on reinstating family concerts and the youth concerto contest and, someday, establishing a music school.

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