My mother played piano and organ, and she started her children on piano when we were age 2. Not all of us took to it. I did.
When we entered first grade, we were required to choose a second instrument. First, though, we had to do a research paper on the instrument or someone who composed music for that instrument. I chose the violin and did my research paper on Peter Tchaikovsky.
Although I also started voice lessons at the age of 10, I think violin was my true passion, and it shows in my music history. Although with making the South Texas Symphony from Grades 6-12, and the Texas Youth Symphony in Grades 9-12, I played with the Texas A&I University Symphony, the Corpus Christi Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Texas A&M University Symphony, and the Brazos Valley Symphony. I finally gave up the violin when I moved to San Diego in 1993 because I wanted to be a Pacific Ocean beach bum, and violins don’t hold up well in the sand, water, and salt air.
I still have a passion for classical music, though, and my husband is a pianist with a Bachelor and Master in Piano Performance from University of Redlands. He plays in a chamber music trio, and he accompanies voice and music students throughout the San Diego area. So I’m pretty lucky.
Due to recent political happenings in the United States, my interest in Nazis has been revitalized, and that connected me back to orchestral music via Czechoslovakan-born composer Bohuslav Martinů.
Martinů was born in 1890 and fled Europe in 1941 to escape the Nazis. He was a very prolific composer, having composed his first piece, a string quartet (Tři Jezdci, H. 1, also known as Three Riders/Three Horsemen), in 1902.
Life in the United States initially was difficult, as it was for many other artist émigrés in similar circumstances—lack of English, lack of funds, and lack of opportunities to use their talents. The music community in the United States encouraged him and provided him with teaching and composing opportunities whenever possible.
In 1950, one of those composing opportunities was presented to him by the Orchestra of the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla. (La Jolla is a neighborhood of San Diego about 13 miles north of downtown.) The Orchestra had been founded in 1942 by Dr. Nikolai Sokoloff, a Russian-American conductor and violinist born in Kiev in 1886.
Sokoloff studied music at Yale; was musical director of the San Francisco People’s Philharmonic Orchestra in 1916-17, where he included women in the orchestra and paid them the same as men; was the founding conductor and music director of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918 where he remained until 1932; directed the Federal Music Project from 1935 to 1938, a New Deal program employing musicians to perform and educate the public about music; and, from 1938 to 1941, directed the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
While directing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, he gave a violin to a nine-year-old violin prodigy named Yehudi Menuhin, a name violinists throughout the world recognize.
Martinů composed Sinfonietta La Jolla, a three-movement work for chamber orchestra. It had its premiere at La jolla High School auditorium on August 13, 1950 with Dr. Sokoloff conducting the Orchestra of the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla. The music critic for the San Diego Union, Constance Herreshoff, called it “a triumph for both orchestra and conductor.”
Here it is being performed by the Prague Chamber Orchestra in 2006 in Villach, Austria: