Four Centuries of Music in One Evening

French Horn Soloist Julie Gross with Topanga Symphony conductor Jerome Kessler. Photo by Tom Mitchell

On a warm Sunday solstice evening (June 23), the musicians spoiled us with a special summer concert of classical music from four centuries: the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s.

 It was a vast array of contrasting music written by well-known composers like Brahms, by lesser-known composers, by contemporary composers, and by composers from near and far away.

Conductor Jerome Kessler always selects a wide range of music and is a keen proponent of American music. As well as being the conductor since the concerts began in 1982, he is also a composer and cellist. While members of the audience hear well-loved familiar pieces, they are also introduced to new music, which can be a delightful surprise.

To begin, there was a short overture by Gluck, then a string overture composed by William Foster McDaniel, and next, a Concertino for Horn and String Orchestra by Lars-Erik Larsson, featuring soloist Julie Gross. The wonderful music continued after the intermission with Serenade #1 in D, Op.11 by Johannes Brahms.  

A live performance is a visual treat as well as auditory. We are so close to the orchestra, we get to see a musician brush away an annoying bug, the dexterity of fingers plucking stringed instruments, bows gliding, pages of sheet music turned, and expressions of concentration on the musicians’ faces.

Two important moments came when the conductor acknowledged composer William Foster McDaniel, sitting in the front row, and asked him to stand. Like me, I expect most of the audience was not aware that the composer was there with us. He graciously stood as the audience applauded. Julie Gross was also recognized for her excellent performance. 

At each concert one of the musicians gives a short speech. We heard from musician Steven Ravaglioli, who plays the trumpet. His amusing and informative talk provided nuggets of insight into his role—trumpets are in the back—about encouraging hand signals from the conductor, and his musical background.

For those who have never been to a classical music concert, try the next one on November 17. They’re not at all intimidating affairs; it’s more of a community get-together. We hear good music, recognize our neighbors playing on stage, get a break from our cell phones, mingle, eat too many brownies during intermission, savor the beautiful setting, and share a lovely experience.

It cannot be said too many times: we are lucky to have the Topanga Symphony. When they rehearse and perform, year after year, for their pleasure and ours, they represent community generosity and goodwill. Their dedication reverberates throughout the canyon along with the music.  



The next concert is November 17, when Aubrey Oliverson will be playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. 



The Topanga Symphony began in 1982 and is a community orchestra that provides three free concerts a year to the Santa Monica Mountain communities. The Topanga Community House offers a home for the concerts and the Friends of the Topanga Symphony was organized to enable individuals to support this musical powerhouse in the canyon. Only with the support of the local businesses and residents is the orchestra able to provide these excellent programs.

To donate, volunteer, and for more information:


By Andrea Ehrgott


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