On July 4th, 1999, a group of community volunteers construct a temporary stage in La Plaza Park, Cotati. Later that afternoon, a group of talented, volunteer musicians take the stage and under the baton of maestro Gabriel Sakakeeny, perform an all-American orchestral program for an enthusiastic crowd of over 1,000 people. The Cotati Philharmonic was born.
La Plaza Park, Cotati July 4th, 1999
From those modest beginnings in La Plaza Park, the orchestra has gone on to present hundreds of performances for tens of thousands of concert goers. We have grown to become the Sonoma County Philharmonic, the premier volunteer orchestra in the North Bay Area. In 2012, we welcomed our new music director, maestro Norman Gamboa, to the podium, and we took up residence in the SRHS Performing Arts Auditorium. In 2019, we move to a new home, the Jackson Theater @ Sonoma Country Day School. Many things have changed over the years, but our central mission remains the same: to make the beauty of classical music available to everyone through the power of community. The orchestra remains committed to expanding our audience to include people who either haven’t had the opportunity or the means to enjoy an experience so central to our culture and heritage.
We are proud of our history as an organization and an orchestra that extends back to 1998, as we celebrate our 15th season.
May 2013 – Guest conductor Cyrus Ginwala closes the season with a concert that features our principal trumpet, Tom Hyde, in the Hovhaness Prayer of St. Gregory, as well as the great Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2.
February 2013 – Guest conductor Mark Wardlaw, professional clarinetist and director of instrumental music at Santa Rosa High School leads the orchestra in Shostakovich’s monumental Symphony No. 9.
October 2012 – New Music Director and principal conductor, maestro Norman Gamboa, opens the season with performances of the Schubert and Dvorak 8th symphonies.
September 2012 – American Phil’s Fall Fling, our first annual fundraiser, is hosted by Lagunitas Beer Sanctuary in Petaluma, and features jazz by orchestra friends and musicians as well as raffles and silent auctions. The event raises over $6,000 to help fund the upcoming season.
August 2012 – The orchestra moves to its new permanent home at the SRHS Performing Arts Auditorium.
May 2012 – Norman Gamboa leads the orchestra and Sonoma County pianist Brigitte Armenier in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.
July 2011 – Five finalists for the music director position are announced – Tristan Arnold, Barnaby Palmer, Evan Craves, John Kendall Bailey and Norman Gamboa.
May 2011 – John Kendall Bailey conducts to orchestra in the West Coast premiere of Moby Dick, a cantata for male voices by Bernard Herrmann.
February 2011 – Search for new music director begins and maestro Gabriel Sakakeeny gives his final concert as principal conductor and music director of the orchestra.
December 23, 2010 – APSC embarks on a 7-city tour of China. Eight concerts are performed during the 12-day tour. Cities visited included Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Taizhou, Ningbo, Dalian, and Yantai.
December 2010 – APSC gives its first pay-for-admission concert with the China Tour fundraising concert at Wells Fargo Center. As a result of this effort, all expenses of the China tour not covered by the Chinese are paid for in full.
March 2010 – The California Arts Council awards APSC a $7,000 matching grant. Nearly $20,000 is raised as a result of this prestigious grant.
January 2010 – Evan Craves steps down as Concertmaster to be replaced by Linda Welter in a concert featuring the incidental music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade.
November 2009 – American Philharmonic is invited to tour China by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Dalian Yilong Performance Company. The Chinese pay for most of the expenses of the tour.
May 2009 – The orchestra celebrates its 10th season with 3 guest conductors and an end-of-season gala including two World Premieres; Sakakeeny’s The Lion and The Rose for soprano, large orchestra, and chorus, and Sepos’ Pentangle.
October 2008 – The orchestra presents the World Premiere of Stephen Main’s Overture for New America.
April 2008 – The orchestra performs Ligeti’s Atmospheres, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with Steven Prutsman, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to an enthusiastic audience in its first appearance in a concert in which people pay for admission sponsored by the Santa Rosa Concert Association, a presenting organization.
February 2008 – Joshua Weilerstein plays the Tchaikovsky violin concerto and makes his public conducting debut leading the orchestra through a movement from Franck’s Sommeil de Psyché as part of his Young Artist Award. He goes on to win the Malko competition in 2010, the most important conducting competition in the world.
October 2007 – The orchestra wins an Irvine Foundation grant to perform a Latin American music concert to engage the Latino audience. The resulting concert is an artistic success but causes the first deficit in the history of the orchestra.
May 2007 – The orchestra plays Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in its first performance at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. A strategic alliance is struck between the two companies. APSC becomes a Resident Company of the Center. For the first time, the orchestra has a permanent home.
October 2006 – The Young Artist’s Program is inaugurated. Nigel Armstrong, violin, plays the Saint-Saëns Havanaise and Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso. He goes on to be a finalist in the Tchaikovsky competition in 2011.
July 2006 – The Board of Directors changes the name of the orchestra to American Philharmonic Sonoma County. Attendance and donations rise dramatically, resulting in a 65% growth for the year.
April 2006 – The Spanish Consul General’s assistant, having heard the orchestra in its October 2005 program ¡Viva España!, arranges for the orchestra to give its San Francisco debut in a command performance sponsored by the Spanish government.
June 2005 – Concertmaster Evan Craves guest conducts the summer pops concert, “Adventures in Hollywood.”
February 2005 – Cotati Philharmonic plays its second world premier, Thomas Goss’ Concert Piece for Erhu and Orchestra, Zhang Xiaofung, erhu soloist.
October 2004 – The orchestra gives the West Coast premiere of Ellsworth Milburn’s Salus Esto.
October 2002 – Evan Craves, Scott Selberg, Alison Hu and others design and inaugurate a new democratic governance system for the orchestra.
October 2001 – The Spreckels Performing Arts Center becomes a new performance venue for Cotati Philharmonic.
June 2001 – The American Philharmonic Association files as a California 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. Gabriel Sakakeeny, President; Peter Bergman, Treasurer; Kathy Murray, Secretary.
April 2001 – Peter Wehausen steps down as concertmaster and is replaced by Evan Craves in a concert featuring the incidental music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade.
February 2001 – The orchestra plays its first World Premiere, Sakakeeny’s Romance for Flute, Bassoon and orchestra with Ilse Maier on flute and George Sakakeeny on bassoon. A second performance is given at the Jackson Theater, Sonoma Country Day School.
October 2000 – Two performances are planned for each concert in the second season to accommodate the ever-increasing audience size. The per capita donations double from $3 to $6 per auditor.
July 2000 – City Manager Paul Marangella is replaced, and the City of Cotati begins to charge the orchestra for rehearsal and storage space, office supplies, and other incidental costs.
February 2000 – The orchestra plays its first West Coast premiere, Sepos’ Dithyramb, the Debussy Nocturnes and Holst’s The Planets with multi-media accompaniment. Hundreds of people have to be turned away due to insufficient space in the hall.
October 1999 – The first indoor concert is given at St. Joseph’s Church in Cotati. The sanctuary is remade for the concert by volunteer woodworkers and laborers to transform the space into one that would accommodate an orchestra.
July 4th, 1999 – The orchestra’s inaugural concert is given in La Plaza Park, Cotati. A program of works by American composers was performed for an enthusiastic crowd of over 1000 people on a stage constructed by ad hoc community volunteers. The audience spontaneously “pass the hat” using any available containers to raise money for the orchestra. This is the beginning of the pay-it-forward funding model.
May 1999 – 28 co-authors sign the Charter and commit to fulfilling the mission of the new organization – “To make the beauty of music and the power of community alive and available for everyone.” The orchestra is born.
April 1999 – A reading rehearsal with about 40 players is held in City Council chambers to audition Sakakeeny as the conductor of the new orchestra. Receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, he leads the group in subsequent meetings to co-create the Charter.
February 1999 – Sakakeeny leads several meetings at Cotati City Hall where increasing numbers of musicians participate.
January 1999 – Sakakeeny and Dennis Dorch, Asst. City Manager and violinist convene a meeting of 9 musicians to discuss what would be possible if the notion of “orchestra” were re-invented from scratch.
November 1998 – Gabriel Sakakeeny is invited by City Manager Paul Marangella to a Cotati City Council meeting to present a short talk on the possibility of a civic orchestra for Cotati. The council votes to fund an orchestra with $12,000.
Gabriel Sakakeeny is the founder and Music Director Emeritus of the American Philharmonic Sonoma County. As the progenitor of our orchestra and the new paradigm that is the foundation for its success, he is a living example of what 21st century leadership in the arts looks like. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the world-renowned Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, he has for 40 years conducted, taught, composed for, and led top tier performers throughout the United States and Canada, Western Europe, and Asia.