Categories: THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Martha Gilmer, CEO of San Diego Symphony, on the Ways to Experience Classical Music at Home

By Cori Wilbur

April 21, 2020

Last week, the San Diego Symphony announced that the remainder of performances scheduled for this season have been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. “In all of history, when things were bad, people would furtively find ways to get together,” CEO Martha Gilmer noted. This is a weird time; we cannot seek comfort in ways that we are accustomed.

“In an orchestra, 82 musicians can’t sit six feet apart,” Gilmer acknowledged. “[Social distancing] is the antithesis of what we do.” Unfortunately, the ability for musicians to collaborate in person and perform for audiences is just simply not possible right now. Likewise, audiences will also have to find alternative forms of solace. Having said that, she agreed that we can use this interim period to learn and nurture our minds and souls in alternative ways. She “[encourages] people to experience a piece of art everyday.” During this period of waiting, there are ways we can optimize our bevy of newly found ‘free’ time while we wait to play or enjoy live music again at Copley Symphony Hall.

San Diego Symphony performing at Copley Symphony Hall (provided by Carrie Jones)

Classical music podcasts

One suggestion Gilmer had was to familiarize oneself with classical music podcasts. The San Diego Symphony’s official podcast Find Your Music™ On the Go with Nuvi Mehta features an extensive look into past performances by the Symphony–from Strauss’ Don Quixote to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations Op. 33–to give listeners a profound appreciation for the music performed. Conductor Joshua Weilerstein has a podcast of his own as well, Sticky Notes. This podcast features appearances from top classical artists today to discuss repertoire pieces. Both podcasts aim to provide–classical music neophytes and aficionados alike–deeper insight on historical works of art.

Embrace the wealth of material on YouTube

During this strange period, we can utilize the extra moments we have to dive deeper into the social, historical and political contexts of compositions and masterpieces we love. Gilmer suggested that fans of classical music explore the vast array of material available on YouTube. 

One video series, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Beyond the ScoreⓇ, blends auditory and visual components to explore the creation of beloved compositions, such as the Elgar Enigma Variations, which the San Diego Symphony played during their last physical performance this year. Through YouTube, individuals can also access historic recordings, compare and contrast different performances of the same masterpiece or even utilize tutorials to challenge themselves to learn something new. 

Enroll small children in online art classes

Many parents have been tasked with homeschooling their children. Gilmer noted that during this unique time, parents can utilize artistic classes offered online to bring art back into curricula. Early art education and exposure to art has been attributed to many positive outcomes for individuals. Art classes are a great vessel for children to express themselves freely without fear of judgment. Villa Musica offers classes via Zoom, some of which are geared specifically toward children under six years of age. 

Listen to the melodies of the natural world

“We have natural sounds around us that can move us and touch us,” said Gilmer. Even so much as opening your window, closing your eyes and taking in the harmonies of a bird’s song, the rustling of the trees or the whistling of the air can instill the same emotional pull as a moving work of music. We’re so lucky to be living in San Diego because we have the natural world very close to us,” she pointed out. Being so close to the natural world allows us to still enjoy the benefits of its beauty without putting our health at risk.

While the current 2019-2020 season may have been cut short, the Symphony concurrently announced their plans for next year. Rafael Payare will return to showcase a chemistry the orchestra worked so hard to build already. The 2021 January Festival In the Name of the Earth will meld the works of composers, from Beethoven to John Luther Adams, that highlight the rhythms of nature and remind us to handle our majestic resource with care. 

Copley Symphony Hall (provided by Carrie Jones)

Gilmer asserted that, with an enlivened artistic community, we can give back creatively, later on, to those, currently, working hard to fend off coronavirus. “When we can finally gather again, it’s the artists [and] the musicians that will be the next round of support for all of us as we come back to a world that we’ve been missing so much.”

San Diego Symphony ticket holders are allowed to donate the value of their ticket, exchange their ticket for a performance next season or keep the account for use in the future. Every Sunday night at 8pm, 89.5 KPBS will rebroadcast Copley Symphony Hall performances.

To get involved with or show your support for the San Diego Symphony please visit

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.