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December 9, 2009 > Ohlone symphony creates classical bliss

Ohlone symphony creates classical bliss

By Julie Grabowski

Mozart, Chopin, Handel, Brahms--the great masters are alive and well, and closer at hand than you may think. For nearly 25 years the Music Department of Ohlone College has been bringing the joy and brilliance of classical music to Fremont through their wonderful orchestra.

The college's first orchestra was established in 1985 and introduced as the Ohlone Symphonic Pops Orchestra under the direction of Lawrence Kohl. Kohl led the group until his retirement in May 2001, then Barbara Christmann filled in for a year before Larry Osborn became Music Director and Conductor in Fall 2003. The group was then renamed the Ohlone Chamber Orchestra and operated as such until this fall when the name was altered once more to the Ohlone Symphony Orchestra.

As a French hornist Osborn spent over 30 years performing with many significant orchestras in and outside the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Opera, Circle Star Theater Orchestra, San Jose Symphony Orchestra, Ballet, and Opera. He has instructed numerous students in the French horn, and founded and directed the Fremont Youth Symphony. Currently in his seventh season with the Ohlone Symphony Orchestra, Osborn's objective is simple: "Perform challenging music from the standard repertoire that students would like to play."

The symphony delivers three to four concerts per season, performing music from all periods of the great classical symphonic literature. Programs are determined by student input, the current ability level of the musicians, and Osborn's directorial views. Composed of 30 to 40 core members the group operates as a one-unit college class with two-hour rehearsals every Wednesday evening at the Centerville Community Center. When longer musical works require more people, the symphony imports experienced players from the community at large. There are immediate openings for dedicated musicians who play violin, viola, cello, string bass, or trumpet, as well as a timpanist/percussionist.

"For our community patrons who love the music of the classics and who would love to become a member of a fun symphony orchestra, the Ohlone Symphony Orchestra might be a good choice," says Osborn. "It is really an interesting, diverse, and delightful group of citizens congregating together for one main purpose, that of enjoying the experience of rehearsing and performing the music of the greatest classical composers."

The symphony's history includes many talented soloists performing on various instruments. Among the recent noteworthy are Chris Wilhite, trumpet; Beverly Johnson and Joyce Tanaka, flute; Rufus Acosta, bassoon; Russell Hancock, piano; Dan Levitan, harp, Kymberly Speer, English horn; Lei Zhang, violin; and Michael Bautista, guitar. The symphony's brass and percussion section, French horn section, and woodwind section have also been highlighted.

While budget cuts eliminated a December concert from their season, the symphony will return with its first spring concert March 7 performing the Overture to the opera "Nabucco" by Giuseppe Verdi, the Serenade No. 10 in Bb major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart which features the orchestra's woodwind section, and the Symphony No. 7 by Antonin Dvorak. The May 16 concert presents two fanfares for brass and percussion by Richard Strauss, the 2nd Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninov featuring piano soloist Russell Hancock, and Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor.

Performances are held on Sundays at 2 p.m. in the state-of-the-art Jackson Theater at the Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. Tickets are priced at $15 for general admission, $10 for seniors and students, and $8 for youths under 12. Special tickets are also available for a select number of high school students in the area.

Osborn believes that having a symphony goes along with the composition of a community or school. "It's just part of the mix of what a well balanced school should have," he says. And a good support system is also in the mix. Osborn acknowledges the music department staff as well as school administration in the orchestra's success. Walt Birkedahl, Dean of Fine Arts, Business and Broadcasting, and Principal Bassist of the symphony; professor, conductor, and bass-trombonist Phil Zahorsky; choral faculty chair Dennis Keller; and Music Office manager Jackie Whitehouse have been instrumental over the years. "Additionally, our Associated Students of Ohlone College have been an annual source of strength and support and a great ally to our arts efforts," says Osborn.

Residents of the Tri-Cities are indeed privileged to have such a longstanding presence in their community and should take the opportunity to experience the Ohlone Symphony Orchestra first hand and support the arts in their own backyard. It just goes to show that sometimes our greatest treasures are the ones right under our noses.

For more information about the Ohlone Symphony Orchestra, to learn how to join, or for concert information call (510) 659-6158 or email

Ohlone Symphony Orchestra
Upcoming Concerts
March 7 and May 16
2 p.m.
Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, Jackson Theater
Ohlone College
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-6000

$15 general
$10 for seniors and students
$8 for youths under 12

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