Mission & History
Inspired by our home city’s long-standing legacy of innovation and inclusion, Berkeley Symphony presents unique and accessible musical experiences that respond to the shifting needs of our community. We believe that music is a living art form that must resonate with the cultural demands of our time and place. By courageously exploring diverse avenues of music and education, we create a greater sense of belonging.
Berkeley Symphony celebrates our unique and diverse community through music – creating live performances and educational programs to engage the curiosity, spirit, and intellect of our audiences.
Berkeley Symphony is unique among Bay Area and American orchestras for its commitment to innovation and community engagement. Founded in 1971 in the intellectual and artistic nexus of Berkeley, California, the Symphony is committed to performing and commissioning new music with special emphasis on the work of women and ethnically diverse composers. As an organization Berkeley Symphony is attuned to the culturally diverse people and the vibrant creative climate of its home city.
Thomas Rarick, a protégé of the great English conductor Sir Adrian Boult, founded the orchestra in 1971 as the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra. Reflecting the spirit of the times, musicians performed in street dress and at unusual locations such as the University Art Museum. When Kent Nagano became the music director of the orchestra in 1978, he charted a new course by offering innovative programming that included rarely performed 20th-century works and numerous premieres. The renamed Berkeley Symphony Orchestra gained an international reputation for its adventurous programming, becoming known for premiering the music of international composers and showcasing young local talents.
Berkeley Symphony entered a new era in January 2009 when Joana Carneiro became the Orchestra’s third Music Director in its 40-year history. After Maestro Carneiro announced her intent to step down as Berkeley Symphony’s Music Director following nine years at its artistic helm, an international search began to select her replacement. This search resulted in four finalists conducting Berkeley Symphony’s Symphonic Series concerts in the 2018-19 concert season, with Joseph Young (a last-minute replacement for a finalist who fell ill), striking instant chemistry with Berkeley Symphony musicians and earning the title of Music Director shortly thereafter. Maestro Young formally began his tenure as Music Director in the 2019-20 season, and continues to build upon Berkeley Symphony’s legacy of innovative programming, award-winning educational programs, and extensive community engagement efforts.
- We strive for excellence and foster a culture that promotes continuous learning and improvement.
- We promote diversity and practice equity and inclusion in our orchestra, audiences, programming, educational programs, and administration.
- We support the next generation of audiences, musicians, and administrators to build the future of orchestral music.
- We believe in building a strong, vibrant art and cultural organization to promote community and economic development.