Organizers of the Silicon Beach Philharmonic work to build an orchestra that musicians in Marina del Rey, Playa Vista, Westchester and Playa del Rey can call their own
By Michael Aushenker and Joe Piasecki
Concert violinist Olivia Tsui and classical music booster Alistair Joobeen are bringing a different kind of startup to the tech-enamored Westside: a volunteer community orchestra.
On Saturday morning at Marina Del Rey Hospital they host the first of several audition sessions for the Silicon Beach Philharmonic and Silicon Beach Chorale, an effort to unite local musicians and singers for a series of free classical music concerts. Ongoing Saturday practices at hospital conference rooms would double as free entertainment for patients and visitors.
“We have tremendous talent in West Los Angeles. There are people who work in IT or as lawyers or doctors or whatever and are classically trained but chose to pursue another career. We want to bring all that talent together to build the best choir and the best community orchestra in the country,” says Joobeen, a Marina del Rey resident who serves as executive director of the umbrella Los Angeles Virtuosi Association, founded by association creative director Tsui.
Tsui brings a lengthy musical résumé to the table. Music director and conductor of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2009 and its concert master for the five years prior, Tsui has been a tenured member of the L.A. Opera Orchestra since 1993 and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra since 1991.
The association has already produced professional concerts under the banner of its Silenced Voices Project, an effort to revive lost works by composers silenced in the Holocaust, and its No Empty Seats program to provide unsold concert tickets to low-income youth.
Taking the name Silicon Beach, the now ubiquitous moniker for the burgeoning tech industry west of the 405, was no accident. Joobeen, a former engineer, sees the mission as creating an infrastructure to tap underutilized musical talent similar to the way that rideshare apps and short-term vacation rental sites put unused inventory back on the market.
“We’re building a community-based, volunteer symphony orchestra made up of student and layperson musicians of all ages where we can participate in weekly rehearsals and community engagement,” he said.
In that vein, he and Tsui also intend to launch a companion Silicon Beach Music Academy, through which professional musicians and voice coaches would provide free musical training for budding (or rusty) musicians who need help to qualify as choral members or orchestra players.
With the encouragement of several San Francisco House soloists, Tsui attempted to parlay the successful launch of music events in Oregon into founding a classical music festival in the Silicon Valley 15 years ago, but she failed to realize the project. Success in Silicon Beach would close the circle on that unfulfilled dream.
Funding remains an issue, however: While volunteers can fill performance chairs and coaching slots, the ultimate success of the program hangs on Joobeen’s ability to find donors — likely local tech companies, he says — to underwrite performance-related costs.
“I want all the concerts to be free,” Joobeen said. For starters, Marina Del Rey Hospital is providing several rooms for public practices, but there’s still a long way to go.
Nonetheless, the Silicon Beach Philharmonic has already assembled a dedicated group of local backers — most of them through participation in the Playa Vista Sunrise Rotary Club — and, according to Joobeen, more than 30 musicians who’ve RSVP’d for upcoming tryouts.
One such player is Playa del Rey resident Jeff J. Kim, managing principal partner of the Larchmont Financial Corp. Kim studied music at Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara and played cello in the New West Youth Symphony for two years, but now he is at a loss about where to put his talents into practice.
“I looked into [playing for] other orchestras, but there were none around here,” he said.
Sure, the Westside is affluent with classical music: the Santa Monica Symphony, Maestro Frank Fetta’s Culver City Symphony Orchestra (which doubles as the Marina del Rey Symphony for four annual summer concerts at Burton Chase Park), and the Santa Monica-based Jacaranda contemporary classical music series, for example. But these existing organizations — with the exception of the Venice Symphony Orchestra, a successful volunteer community orchestra that blends contemporary rock compositions with classical musicianship — are primarily the realm of professional musicians.
And while close to home, they don’t specifically serve or represent affluent communities that Silicon Beach Orchestra backers believe are ripe for additional classical music programming — specifically Marina del Rey, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester.
“There is not one orchestra within the communities that our rotary club serves,” said Playa Venice Sunrise Rotary Club Services Director Peter Smyth, a real estate broker and president of Marina del Rey-based California Realty Inc.
Marina Del Rey Hospital Director of Business Development Mark Miller sees value in making weekend orchestra and chorale practices available to hospital patients, their visitors and other community members.
“One of our major initiatives is to be more engaged with Marina del Rey and its immediate surroundings, so supporting the orchestra seemed like a natural fit for us,” Miller said. “We already have a music therapy program in which a harpist comes in to play in our lobby, and we appreciate the high level of performers that can be added through the orchestra. In terms of music therapy and stress relief for our patients, this fits really well with the environment we’re trying to create.”
Another fan of the idea is Carol Oike Kitabayashi. As executive director of Westchester Playa Village, a nonprofit network of volunteers who help senior citizens stay socially active while living independently at home, she thinks a community orchestra can be a tool to keep elderly clients engaged.
“A local symphony would create a meaningful avenue for seniors who like classical music to enjoy live performances and afford those who participate an opportunity to give back to the community as well,” Kitabayashi said. “The majority of our members are longtime residents of the Westchester/Playa area, and we feel they would find value in something closer to home and would enjoy knowing that people from their own community are taking part in it.”
Tsui, a Los Angeles resident, also sees opportunities for local youth.
Born in Shanghai, Tsui began studying the violin at age 3 and arrived in the U.S. in 1986 to further her musical education after her ambitions to conduct music hit a ceiling in conservative China.
She believes musical studies provide the discipline and creative tools that kids need in order to excel at academics, describing her own musically accomplished sons with ex-husband Kristopher Carter (an Emmy-winning TV producer) as honor-roll students. Both Caelan, 11, and Adrian, 6, study piano at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music, and her older boy sang at the Hollywood Bowl and performed solo in a Los Angeles Opera production of “Billy Budd.”
Tsui understands that most children grow up without similar opportunities to pursue music.
“We have these fortunate kids from musical families who grow up singing, dancing and playing instruments, having straight A’s at school, but not every kid has that privilege,” she said. “We would like to give everyone a chance. That what the Silicon Beach Music Academy is all
Open auditions for Silicon Beach Symphony and Silicon Beach Chorale run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Marina Del Rey Hospital, 4650 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey (entrance on Mindanao Way). Tryouts are open to all ages. Call (310) 999-3626 or visit meetup.com/Silicon-Beach-Philharmonic/.