In May 1926, the first concert was performed by the newly created Stockton Symphony – a group of twenty local musicians formed by pharmacist-by-day and orchestra-conductor-by-night Manlio Silva. An Italian immigrant, Silva was an accomplished musician, having graduated from the Conservatory of Chiavari. The musicians gave the Stockton Symphony’s inaugural performance during “Music Week” for the Stockton Musical Club. Five months later, the first complete season opened in October 1926 at the California Theater on Main Street. At that time, tickets sold for 50 cents for adults and 10 cents for children, which helped defray costs.
Through the years
Stockton Symphony has thrived for over 90 years. Under the twenty-seven year reign of conductor Kyung-Soo Won beginning in 1967, the Symphony morphed from a community orchestra to a professional ensemble, gaining “metropolitan” status, as ranked by the American Symphony Orchestra League.
During that time, guest artists of great national and international renown came to Stockton to perform with the Symphony. Long-time residents may remember eminent pianist Van Cliburn’s performances. In 1975 track and field star Jesse Owens traveled to Stockton to narrate Copland’s Lincoln Portrait for a sold-out performance. For the 1976-1977 season, a generous grant from Tillie and Meyer Lewis enabled the Symphony to host Metropolitan Opera star Beverly Sills and pianist Andre Watts, who also played to standing-room-only crowds.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, local music lovers were treated to an outstanding line up of famous guest artists, such as Itzhak Perlman, Robert Merrill, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Peter Serkin, Ruggiero Ricci, Pearl Baily, Kyung-Wha Chung, Ravi Shankar, Christoph Eschenbach, Ransom Wilson, Leonard Rose, Thomas Paul, and Roberta Peters. With every performance, local patrons realized how fortunate they were to have a symphony orchestra of such high caliber in their community.