ABOUT THE SBSO
The San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 90th Anniversary in 2018, making it one of the oldest professional orchestras in California. Based in the heart of Southern California's Inland Empire, the SBSO is one of the leading regional professional orchestras in Southern California. In May of 2019, the SBSO appointed it's 16th Music Director, Maestro Anthony Parnther.
In the Fall of 1929, then-15-year-old James “Jimmy” K. Guthrie posited that communities with access to the arts were stronger and more vibrant places than those which lacked this vital access. Reaching out to musician friends in San Bernardino and Los Angeles, he established The Philharmonic Orchestra which would later become the San Bernardino Symphony. Their first concert was held the following March and included Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
The Symphony performed several concerts each year until 1961 when our first partnership with the local Adult School was established. This set the foundation for future partnerships with the local education community. To manage the expanding reach of the organization, two years later, the San Bernardino Symphony Association was formed.
In 1980, the Symphony hired its first paid staff member, coordinated with Local 47 for professional musicians, and changed its name to the Inland Empire Symphony. All went well until the Recession hit the region, causing a mid-season cancellation of the two remaining concerts. Shortly thereafter, the Symphony engaged its first Executive Director and hired a musician’s personnel manager. Under this leadership, the organization began to blossom again and, based on recognition of the growing local ethnic diversity, in 1985, the Symphony founded Sinfonia Mexicana bringing Latin American orchestras into San Bernardino.
Throughout the 80s, the Symphony broadened the scope of its concerts to include non-classical fare, held concerts at the California Theatre, at Secombe Lake Park, and in various venues throughout the region. Chamber music groups performed throughout the city and the Symphony added two annual performances at the country’s longest-running free concert venue, the Redlands Bowl. Their Fourth of July concerts brought thousands into the city each year. Toward the end of the decade, the Symphony incorporated, the first student volunteer program was established (still on-going as the Symphony Debs and Red Tie Guys), and the Association became the Symphony Board of Directors.
In 1991, Symphony docents began the in-schools program which would eventually introduce orchestral instruments to over 160,000 students. By the late 1990s, the Civic Light Opera had closed, and the City of San Bernardino Economic Development Agency took over operations of the Symphony’s primary performance venue, the California Theatre of the Performing Arts. The 1990s also saw Symphony concerts at Cal State San Bernardino starring Vicki Carr and Maya Angelou.
In 2000, Carlo Ponti, son of actress Sophia Loren, took the helm as conductor. Also, that year the Symphony opened a music rental library named in memory of its donor, James K. Guthrie. In 2003, the Symphony Volunteer Guild was formed with an annual fundraising goal of $25,000.
In 2006, an Irvine Foundation Capacity Building Grant allowed the Symphony to establish donor and volunteer management systems, set up online ticket sales, and provide training to the Board and Executive Director.
In 2013, the current Executive Director was hired. Shortly thereafter, we began the sponsored student ticket program, Classroom to Concert Hall, which has created a pathway for thousands of families to attend concerts, and we added a second annual free student concert thereby doubling the number of students benefitted to over 3,400. In 2016, another multi-year Irvine Foundation grant allowed us to provide thrice-monthly Fine Arts Lunch Breaks in downtown San Bernardino to enhance the quality of life for those who live and work in our city.
Currently, the Symphony maintains all past education programs and provides a world-class arts experience for many thousands each year.