Second violinist Debbie Passanisi, center, has been in the Peninsula Symphony for 41 years.
With the news earlier this month that $500,000 had gone missing from the Peninsula Symphony of Northern California, a Burlingame woman is helping lead the effort to rebuild the group.
Burlingame’s Debbie Passanisi has been with the symphony since 1972. She began playing violin when she was in the fourth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School in Burlingame and continued playing at Burlingame Intermediate School, Burlingame High School and at University of California, Davis where she studied English literature. Now she is principal second violin and an orchestra representative to the Board of Directors.
The first shows of the season, that opened the weekend of Oct. 25, were bittersweet for the symphony, which lost almost its entire budget, Passanisi said.
“We love playing together, but we don’t know the future,” she said. “A lot of people have rallied behind us.”
For now, the group is fundraising and calling past patrons to ask for donations. Passanisi even wrote a letter asking for community support. To date, the symphony has raised around $220,000, said Mitchell Klein, music director and symphony conductor.
“I am honored and privileged to play with my fellow musicians in the Peninsula Symphony under Maestro Klein, who is a figure of towering achievement and gentle sensitivity,” she wrote. “At this moment, it feels like the end of world. Please help us continue to be the messengers of the music from our past that is ever new.”
For Passanisi, the symphony has been a constant in her life throughout many times of change.
“There are so many moments like this that I carry with me, and so many players and friends who sat side by side with all of us over the years, who are now gone, taken away in life to other cities, and taken away in death, beyond our reach,” she wrote. “My time in the orchestra has been filled with love and lost. I lost my father. I lost my mother. I lost many cherished second violin friends, but the music continued. I changed jobs. I changed careers. The music continued. Throughout my life, the constant has been the music that gives it meaning and beauty.”
Klein has been with the symphony for 29 years and said the musicians are a very close-knit committed group of people who are extremely dedicated to the experiences on stage and success of the organization. Some have been with the group for 40 years.
“After the discovery of the missing funds, everyone has renewed their efforts to keep the organization alive and healthy,” Klein said. “Debbie spoke [at an event] and led a strong effort to make sure we able to have a season even though didn’t have money in the bank at all at that time. It’s expensive to put on a season.”
The symphony received $56,000 from the orchestra itself. Members of the Board of Directors raised about $140,000 in about four days among themselves and their families, Klein said. There are still donations coming in, Klein said.
“There’s been a great deal of support from all over the country,” Klein said. “One of things most important to all of us is to send our orchestra into elementary schools that have no music programs. We’re hopeful we will get through this season; we only have about half as much we need and the even bigger task is reestablishing endowment funds.”
The Baker & McKenzie law firm is assisting the organization in getting its assets back. The Los Altos police are in their preliminary stages of investigating the loss of funds.
The groups next shows are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24 at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University. Call 941-5291 for tickets or to donate to the symphony. You can also visit peninsulasymphony.org/support.php.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105