Established in 1953, The Claremont Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was founded by George Denes, a music director for the Claremont School District. The CSO’s first Claremont park concert was performed in the summer of 1954 with a second concert hosted at Pomona’s Ganesha Park. The Claremont Adult School, City of Claremont Parks and Recreation Department, and the Claremont Kiwanis Club were all original sponsors of the organization and Pomona College graciously provided the Bridges Hall of Music as a permanent concert venue.
The CSO operates as a nonprofit organization with IRS 501(c)(3) status (12/31/1959). The purpose and mission of the CSO is laid out as such:
“Whereas this is a volunteer community orchestra, it shall be the purpose to provide concerts of symphonic character, admission free, to the community; to provide opportunities for younger musicians to gain experience with older, more experienced persons; to provide an opportunity for soloists, composers, and guest conductors to perform within our community.”
Among the first orchestra members and supporters were Winkie and Bert Norton (long-time president of the CSO, the Kiwanis, and the Claremont Branch of the Red Cross), first cellist Louisa Miller, concertmaster Alice Korbeil, and violist Gladys Davis, whose daughter Laura Jaoui has been a member for many years.
In 1983, the CSO founded the Claremont Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO), which performs two concerts annually. The approximately 100 CYSO members are made up of students ranging from grades 5 through to college and represent almost 50 schools across 25 communities. In 2014 the Prelude String Ensemble (PSE) was created for intermediate string players in grades 3 to 12.
In cooperation with the City of Claremont, the CSO performed a gala concert in Bridges Auditorium on November 15, 1987 for the city’s centennial celebration, where noted pianist, Leonard Pennario, was the soloist.
There have been only three CSO Music Directors since it’s founding: George Denes (1953 -1979), James Fahringer (1979 - 2010), and Robert Sage (2011 - present). Ruth Charloff has been the Associate Conductor since 2011, and Gloria Cangahuala has been Concertmaster since 2003. Bert Norton, Phil Dreyer, Al Smith, Barbara Bonzo, Mark Dobkin, and Cecilia Cloughly have served as president of the group.
Currently, the CSO is supported solely by donations and annually performs five classical concerts, a summer park concert, and its Sing-Along Messiah and Concert for Young People.