Four members of the Coachella Valley Philharmonic Society rehearse for a show. Credit: Laine Henry

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated many performing-arts organizations—but here in the Coachella Valley, something amazing was born as a result.

During the height of COVID-19, a number of skilled musicians moved to the Coachella Valley. Once here, they realized there wasn’t much work. Nunzio Sisto, the music program manager for the Palm Springs Cultural Center, saw this as an opportunity.

“I was looking to get more music played in the valley,” Sisto said. “I wasn’t seeing too much of anything out here other than jazz.”

Sisto began to search for musicians looking for work. “In my search, I started to find more and more musicians,” he said. “Some were former philharmonic players, former recording artists from L.A., Broadway tour musicians who were absolutely fabulous—but there were no jobs for them locally.”

Sisto started putting together small concerts to employ these musicians—and the Coachella Valley Philharmonic Society was born.

The philharmonic will perform chamber-music concerts two Tuesdays per month at the Palm Springs Cultural Center; the next two are scheduled for Aug. 23 and Sept. 6. The Aug. 23 concert features John Scanlon on viola and Richard Treat on cello with a program called “Romantic Duo.” On Sept. 6, Dr. Vanessa Fountain will play the harp in a program titled “47 Strings, Endless Possibilities.”

“By having a concert (nearly) every two weeks, I am able to give musicians repeated, paid work,” Sisto said.

This new series is not Sisto’s only contribution to the valley. While living in New York in 2015, he founded the nonprofit Youth Training Orchestras of America (YTO). YTO aims to train young musicians in the style of smaller Broadway pit orchestras and Hollywood film-studio orchestras.

“How many kids aren’t being inspired to really get in there and study and get those classical chops?” Sisto said. “That’s the hard part. It’s because they are not hearing or seeing (that type of music).”

Sisto also wants to get more students interested by providing free tickets to the shows to them and their families.

The local YTO groups performed primarily in private residences to raise money at first. When Sisto moved to Palm Springs three years ago, he spoke with Cultural Center executive director Michael Green—but when COVID restrictions arrived, there was no way for the two organizations to work together. But once the YTO groups started performing again, Green got in contact with Sisto—and the Cultural Center became the new home of the YTO.

Nunzio Sisto.

“It’s a really great partnership,” Sisto said. “I now have a place for the youth orchestra to rehearse. We have a space for them to perform, and I was able to bring things like this chamber series to the Cultural Center.”

Proceeds from Coachella Valley Philharmonic Society shows will benefit the Youth Training Orchestras, as well as the Cultural Center’s efforts to renovate its Theatre 3 from being strictly a movie theater into a combination live music venue/movie theater.

“We need to transform (Theatre 3) up to the basic operating level; then we are going to start doing things like original musicals, new plays, etc.,” he said. “With the upgraded sound and lighting, that theater will be a great space. Once that’s done, the Youth Orchestra has an amazing place to play. It’s kind of the perfect room to do these concerts in.”

The ultimate goal for is for the space to become a top-quality theater akin to the La Jolla Playhouse.

“We just want the community to know that. It’s up to them if we become the next La Jolla,” Sisto said. “The community is showing up to our chamber series. … If the community keeps showing up, giving us feedback and supporting us, we’re going to keep putting on top-quality performances.”

The Coachella Valley Philharmonic Society’s Chamber Series will include performances at 7 p.m., two Tuesdays per month, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets through the Sept. 6 show are $15; afterward, tickets will be $30. Attendees can also subscribe to the series for $30 per month through December. For more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit psculturalcenter.org/cv-philharmonic-society-chamber-series.

Kevin Mann is the Independent’s editorial intern; his internship is funded by the Coachella Valley Journalism Foundation. Kevin can be reached at kmann@cvindependent.com.

Avatar photo

Kevin Mann

Kevin Mann is a former bankruptcy paralegal who's made a U-turn into filmmaking and journalism. He has also written for the College of the Desert’s Chaparral and The Desert Sun. His screenplay, Appetite,...

2 replies on “Instrumental Enjoyment: The New CV Philharmonic Society Gets Going With a Chamber-Music Series at the Palm Springs Cultural Center”

  1. Attended the concert on August 9th! With terrific players, with Nunzio Sisto at the helm, it was a real treat to have this kind of music presented on a regular basis.
    Congratulations to Nunzio and the Palm Springs Cultural Center – we need more of this kind of classical entertainment!

Comments are closed.