Catalina Island News

Stanford Symphony Orchestra Conductor Talks About the 2015 Holiday Symphony Concert

Catalina Island Museum

A beloved holiday tradition, the Catalina Island Museum Holiday Symphony Concert is like no other in Avalon. Featuring the distinguished Stanford Symphony Orchestra, this year’s Holiday concert takes place Friday evening at 7:00 pm in the Avalon Casino Theatre.  The concert is free to the public.

Stanford’s talented and dynamic conductor Anna Wittstruck returns to the podium to lead the ensemble comprised of undergraduates, graduate students and alumni of Stanford University. Wittstruck recently spoke with the Catalina Island Museum about this year’s program and her return to Avalon.

How will this year’s performance differ from the previous years?

There is a lot more variety in the music we are presenting this year, and the instrumentation of the orchestra is more diverse. You will see lots of different kinds of instruments performing. While last year we featured fantastic professional soloists, this year it is the orchestra that takes center stage, in an exciting and varied program that lets every player really shine.

How did you select this year’s program?

Instead of selecting a single theme, I put together a program that spans several cultural backgrounds and styles: from Bartok's representation of Romanian folk music to Grieg and Capriol's nostalgic reinvention of Baroque dance. The program features our individual players, with some strings in only selections, and an opening piece of chamber music by Beethoven. One student, who is equally skilled on violin and piano and recently performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 with our orchestra, will play a short piano solo (and then return to his fiddle!). The centerpiece of the program is Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, which brings together the whole ensemble. Wagner is known for his dramatic, large-scale operas, but this music shows his more sensitive and intimate side. Wagner wrote Siegfried Idyll for his wife's birthday, and its first performance was in their house on the stairwell on Christmas Day. It's moving, emotional music, and befits the holiday season.

The museum has once again arranged for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra to visit the Avalon High School music class. This outreach program was quite successful last year, any thoughts or hopes for this year?

One of the most rewarding activities for our ensemble last year was visiting the Avalon High School music class. It is an exciting time for our musicians to introduce their instruments and share their musical expertise with younger students, and also a critical moment for them to feel connected to the community. Last year we even had an informal jam session break out, where our musicians were playing music with the Avalon students. I hope this year's visit will be equally, if not more, rewarding and special for everyone involved.

This will be your third year traveling to Catalina Island for the museum’s Holiday Symphony Concert. Do you have an all-time favorite memory about any of your past trips to the island that you can share?

My favorite thing about performing on Catalina Island is how quickly the museum, hosts, staff, and audience make us feel like part of the community. It is always difficult to say good-bye on the last day, and I think maybe my favorite thing about returning last year was being reunited with so many familiar faces. Each year a few of the orchestra members are returning musicians, but many of them are also new. Through them you can feel the thrill of discovering the island, the people, and the concert venue for the first time. I can't wait to step off the ferry, and once again share our music with such an appreciative and supportive community!

The 3rd Annual Catalina Island Museum Holiday Symphony Concert takes place tonight, Friday, December 11 at 7:00 pm in the Avalon Casino Theatre. The Holiday Symphony Concert is free of charge. Seating is first-come, first choice. Doors open at 6:30 pm. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414, or at its website:

Prior to the Holiday Symphony Concert, the museum is holding its popular Holiday Open House from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm within the Catalina Island Museum itself. All members, island residents and visitors are encouraged to stop by. The annual Holiday Open House offers free museum admission, a free tasting by a local caterer, a huge sale in its Museum Store, and some holiday cheer.

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and history.  The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website.