Auburn symphony rewards itself with a night out

After 25 years, the orchestra unwinds with Silver Anniversary Gala
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Auburn Symphony 25th Silver Anniversary Season Gala
Host wine bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres, dessert, music, live auction
When: 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23
Where: The Ridge Event Center, 2020 Golf Course Road, Auburn
Cost: $75 per person, $125 couple, available at the door
Info: (530) 823-6683,

It has been a year like no other for the Auburn Symphony. Last February saw the loss of conductor Michael Goodwin in an auto accident.

While a tragedy of this magnitude could have crippled weaker institutions, the resilience and fortitude of the dedicated players made the ensuing performances a testament to their fallen leader’s passion and ability.

And as they entered their 25th season, the baton was passed to Peter Jaffe and a new era of the Auburn Symphony begun.

“It’s been a heartwarming experience, just a very emotional time,” Jaffe said. “I love working with this group of talented musicians. We’ve had some wonderful performances this year. I would hope we are doing Michael Goodwin proud. Somewhere up there he is smiling.”

There are sure to be smiles throughout the building tomorrow night as the symphony celebrates the past quarter century with a Silver Anniversary Gala at The Ridge Event Center. A host wine bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres, dessert, a live auction and a wind quintet to entertain.

There will also be a tribute to eight founding members still playing with the orchestra. One of them is violinist Kathleen Sailor.

“When I first started I was a librarian and I would go and make copies of the sheet music at the Chamber of Commerce and drag my three kids along with me,” she said. “We’ve had many fantastic musicians that have since passed on, but our turnover is not that big because once you get involved with this group you get hooked. There’s only one way out.”

Undoubtedly, any seats that open up will not take long to fill. The orchestra has had a waiting list for quite a long time. And these are not paid positions. All of these musicians volunteer their time, and some come from as far away as Vacaville and Davis.

“We have people chomping at the bit to play with Peter,” said Joann Valentine, president of the symphony’s board of directors. “And it was the same way with Michael Goodwin. There is a waiting list.”

As board president, one of Valentine’s duties is to raise money. While there are only four paid positions (the conductor, the stage manager, the business manager and a part-time office worker), the symphony does a lot of outreach throughout the year, especially geared at children. While the “Young Artists

Competition” attracts those already immersed in the classical sphere, “KinderKonzert” and “Symphony Goes to School” help introduce kids to the orchestra and its music, composers and instruments.

“We are so lucky when you stop and think about it,” Valentine said. “Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln, none of them has an orchestra and Auburn is smaller than all three.”

Smaller in population perhaps, but not in its enthusiasm for quality music. And that enthusiasm is rewarded, as the musicians seem up to the task of satisfying their audience and their conductor.

“Peter pushes them to the task of being better than they thought they could be,” Valentine said. “For  a musician that is the best of the best, and it’s a true tribute to both Peter and Michael. If someone nudges you out of your comfort zone, that is when you really grow. And Peter has them smiling, and that is important when you are driving long distances and volunteering your time.”

Robert Haswell, the symphony’s business manager, said his job is to “keep the lights on” and leave the creative stuff to the maestro. He said you never know who will stick around when you change leaders, that people transition out, but in this case, every member to a person stayed.

“They adore him,” Haswell said. “He’s very high energy, has high expectations and they are all responding. The orchestra is playing at the highest level it ever has, which says a lot because they were already playing at a high level.”

And that is not lost on the musicians. Sailor, who plays second violin, said if she practiced harder she could be in the first violin section, but as it is she doesn’t have to play up in the stratosphere like they do.

“Michael Goodwin had such high standard, he drew the musicians in, they were really attracted toward him,” she said. “Now we have Peter Jaffe who is going to take us to a new level and I hope I can keep up.”

Jaffe will not shy away from talk that he pushes his musicians.

“It’s true. I admit it,” he said. “For me, it’s one of the most inspirational things, to see people playing better than they thought they could play. I confess I am guilty of it, but they always respond with a smile.”

Jaffe, who once played violin under Leonard Bernstein, said his conducting style is similar.

“While all conductors are active, some are more restrained in their motions,” he said. “Others are quite expressive. I was coached by Leonard Bernstein and something I couldn’t escape is that he lived the music. That is my style, I like to live the music.”

Meanwhile, as prospective players from miles around queue up for a shot to become replacement musicians, the current cast of 70-plus, along with board members, patrons and friends, invite you to share in the success of the past as they look to what the future may hold.