City Beat

Revived orchestra’s music heard across capital

Sacramento Philharmonic stages pop-up concerts

The Sacramento Philharmonic will return to the stage this year. It's trying to reintroduce itself to Sacramento.
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The Sacramento Philharmonic will return to the stage this year. It's trying to reintroduce itself to Sacramento.

A welcome sound has popped up around the city. And it sounds a little like a comeback.

The Sacramento Philharmonic is staging a series of “music invasions.” It started Tuesday, when a four-member brass ensemble played in Cesar Chavez Plaza during the region’s “Big Day of Giving” charity drive.

There was another show at the library in the Pocket the next night. And on Saturday, kids in strollers and people walking dogs stopped to watch a string quartet perform at the midtown Sacramento farmers market.

The philharmonic has been out of sight for a year; it’s battling money woes and hasn’t performed since April last year. With so much attention on downtown’s revival, the absence seemed to gain little attention. Should we care more?

“We are an essential ingredient if Sacramento is to be seen as a vital capital city,” said Julian Dixon, the philharmonic’s director of community engagement and education.

This isn’t just a matter of how a city supports its orchestra.

Mayor Kevin Johnson and some local business leaders are pushing the idea of replacing the Community Center Theater with a $200 million performing arts center. One possible financing tool is a sales tax increase. That becomes a pretty tough sell if one of the theater’s core tenants can barely survive.

Think about this: Modesto and Fresno have symphonies that regularly perform more than 40 times a year. And last fall, Sacramento was the only city of its size without an active philharmonic.

Young artists are carving out a voice in Sacramento. But the city has a reputation for not supporting the arts, and some of those young artists are worried this cultural evolution won’t last.

Like a lot of arts groups, the philharmonic relies on the same small group of families to remain solvent. They’re the same families that helped build a new Crocker Art Museum. They’ll also be asked to open their wallets for a new performing arts center.

“We have to find that new group of support,” Dixon said.

That’s part of the point of the pop-up shows. Dixon said about 25 of the performances have been set over the next few weeks. The musicians will play at Burbank High School in south Sac, and they’re planning a big show on the west steps of the Capitol on June 17.

Along the way, they’ll reach people who have probably never seen a symphony orchestra.

“We’re taking the music out of the hall and into the community, so people can see that we’re humans,” Dixon said.

This all leads up to June 27. That’s when the philharmonic will launch a seven-concert season with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, considered one of the greatest musical works of the past 200 years.

Most orchestra buffs know it by another name: “The Resurrection.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at