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. 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 4,600 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, and has supported local composers through its Under Construction new music program, in partnership with EarShot. 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.
Third movement of Frankenstein Symphony by Mark Grey. Co-Commission by Berkeley Symphony and Atlanta Symphony. Berkeley Symphony, Joana Carneiro, conductor. West Coast premiere performance, May 5, 2016.
Excerpt from Bay Area Premiere of Nyx by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Berkeley Symphony, Joana Carneiro, conductor. May 1, 2014.