The mission of Berkeley Symphony is to champion symphonic music as a living art form – creating live performances and educational programs that engage the intellect, spark the curiosity, and delight the spirit of Berkeley and surrounding Bay Area communities.
- Identify, attract, and retain superb artistic leadership and musicians, ensuring the highest quality orchestra possible.
- Commission new music from composers whose work invigorates the symphonic repertoire.
- Perform new and recently composed symphonic works alongside traditional repertoire, highlighting the development of classical music to the present day.
- Provide free, in-school music education programs for children that foster intellectual and physical skills for music performance and build the symphony audience of the future.
- Provide mentorship and career development opportunities for the next generation of composers.
Recognized nationally for its spirited programming, Berkeley Symphony has established a reputation for presenting major new works for orchestra alongside fresh interpretations of the classical European and American repertoire. It has been honored with an Adventurous Programming Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in ten of the past twelve seasons.
Under the baton of Music Director Joana Carneiro, the Orchestra performs four main-stage concerts a year in Zellerbach Hall, and supports local composers through its Under Construction New Music Program, in partnership with EarShot. A national leader in music education, the Orchestra partners with the Berkeley Unified School District to produce the award-winning Music in the Schools program, providing comprehensive, age-appropriate music curricula to more than 4,200 local elementary students each year. In association with the Piedmont Center for the Arts, Berkeley Symphony presents an annual chamber music series at the Center called Berkeley Symphony & Friends.
Berkeley Symphony was founded in 1969 as the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra by Thomas Rarick, a protégé of the great English Maestro Sir Adrian Boult. Under its second Music Director, Kent Nagano, who took the post in 1978, the Orchestra charted a new course with innovative programming that included rarely performed 20th-century scores. In 1981, the internationally-renowned French composer Olivier Messiaen journeyed to Berkeley to assist with the preparations of his imposing oratorio The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Orchestra gave a sold-out performance in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. In 1984, Berkeley Symphony collaborated with Frank Zappa in a critically-acclaimed production featuring life-size puppets and moving stage sets, catapulting the Orchestra onto the world stage.
Berkeley Symphony entered a new era in January 2009 when Joana Carneiro became the Orchestra’s third Music Director in its 40-year history. Under Carneiro, the Orchestra continues its tradition of presenting the cutting edge of classical music. Together, they are forging deeper relationships with living composers, which include several prominent contemporary Bay Area composers such as John Adams, Paul Dresher, and Gabriela Lena Frank.
Berkeley Symphony has introduced Bay Area audiences to works by upcoming young composers, many of whom have since achieved international prominence. Celebrated British composer George Benjamin, who subsequently became Composer-in-Residence at the San Francisco Symphony, was first introduced to the Bay Area in 1987 when Berkeley Symphony performed his compositions Jubilation and Ringed by the Flat Horizon; as was Thomas Adès, whose opera Powder Her Face was debuted by the Orchestra in a concert version in 1997 before it was fully staged in New York City, London and Chicago.