“The South Bay Chamber Music Society is to Southern California what The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is to New York — unequivocally essential.”
— Palos Verdes Peninsula News March 18, 1999
The South Bay Chamber Music Society came to life in 1963. It began its activities under the leadership of our founder, Ruth Breytspraak. There was a scarcity of good music in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Ruth believed that we were ready for and would support the performance of fine music played by professional musicians, and that we should elevate our cultural life. Previously, residents of the South Bay had been driving to Los Angeles, Pasadena, or Westwood when they wanted to hear music performed by professionals.
With the assistance of Colette Nance, another South Bay resident and a well-known pianist and music teacher, Ruth invited a group of people together to discuss starting a chamber music society. The first board meeting took place at the home of Nichols and Hope Bosworth, and included William Mallory, Thomas Wilson, Leslie Brigham, Alfreda Headley, Sidney Stafford, Ruth Lamont, and Naomi Urban, as well as Colette Nance and Ruth Breytspraak. This group was receptive to Ruth’s idea and charged Sidney Stafford with the responsibility of organizing a few concerts as a trial run to see if the local community would indeed subscribe to the idea. Sidney Stafford then, as now, had many contacts in the musical world of Los Angeles. Mr. Brigham agreed to serve as our first President, Nick Bosworth as Vice President, Ruth Lamont as Treasurer, and Naomi Urban as Secretary. They all pledged financial support to get things rolling. Tickets were sold to the early concerts to defray expenses.
Mr. Stafford arranged for three programs of piano trios and quartets. He engaged Louis Kaufman, violinist, Albert Falkove, violist, and Alexander Reisman, cellist, and offered his services as pianist. The first concert was given at the Torrance Recreation Center on March 15, 1964 for a large, enthusiastic audience. Acoustically, the Recreation Center left much to be desired, so it was decided to move the second and third concerts to a better hall, the Redondo Beach Women’s Club. These concerts took place on April 15 and May 3, 1964. This, then, is how we began.
The Redondo Beach Women’s Club, while acoustically satisfactory, was not large enough for our enthusiastic audiences, so we searched for a larger hall. We found it in the old Redondo Union High School Auditorium. We enjoyed many fine concerts during the next two years at Redondo High. With the assistance of Mr. Stafford, we started to engage musical groups from outside of the Los Angeles area–the Fine Arts Quartet and the Alma Trio were on our program in 1965. In 1966, harpsichordist Alice Ehlers and violinist Eudice Shapiro played a duo recital, and Joseph Schuster, Mitchell Lurie, and Sidney Stafford played a program of trios and sonatas. The 1966/67 program included the Orchestra Michelangelo di Firenze. Alas, natural forces now put our concerts in jeopardy. The earthquake of 1966 damaged the Redondo Union High School Auditorium so much that it was declared unsafe. We had already signed contracts with our musicians, and we had to find a new hall for the remaining concerts in 1967. In desperation we moved to the Mira Costa High School Auditorium. In spite of poor acoustics at Mira Costa, we enjoyed beautiful concerts there by the Juilliard Quartet, Gabor Rejto and Adolph Baller, and the Francesco Chamber Trio.
Funding for these concerts was raised by individual contributions from the many music lovers in the area who have faithfully supported our activities through the years. Tickets were sold, since these big- name artists were quite costly for us to support. We were fortunate enough to have the assistance of Dr. Philip Karr, who waged a vigorous promotional campaign. Both Dr. and Mrs. Karr had joined our Board of Directors and contributed their considerable energies to the organization. Dr. Karr used his connections at TRW to arrange ticket sales during the lunch hour at its cafeteria. From the very beginning TRW gave us encouragement and support in many different ways. Because they believed our effect on the cultural life of the South Bay would enhance their recruiting activities, they even included our brochures in their offer packages at one time. Helen Karr became our President in 1966 and worked very hard at shaping the organization. Her energetic leadership during 1966 and 1967 did much to expand our horizons.
In 1967, Dr. C. Robert Haag, Dean of Community Affairs at El Camino College, encouraged us to move our programs to the new auditorium at El Camino, which we did on February 23, 1968 with the performance of the Orchestra San Pietro di Napoli. In March, in conjunction with the Community Affairs office of El Camino, we jointly presented the great Bach Aria Group.
This splendid El Camino auditorium, however, was too large for the intimate chamber music we had originally envisioned in the Bosworths’ living room. Another change of format was in store. Under the leadership of our President at that time, Charlene Steen, we moved our concerts to the new Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library in September 1969. With financial assistance from the Musicians’ Union, Local 47, through the Music Performance Trust Funds, and from our ever-faithful financial supporters, we started holding admission-free monthly concerts in the music room at the Library. We experimented with several different times and days, but decided that Friday evenings were best for our audience. Our program coordinator, Sidney Stafford, called upon his experience with local Los Angeles musicians and together with an able program selection committee, continued to arrange a wide variety of fine chamber music programs for presentation in the Library music room.
We continued to present free monthly concerts in the Peninsula Center Library for over ten years. During this time we began annual lecture/demonstration concerts, which were usually held in homes of our gracious patrons. We were able to add (for two years) a series of concerts at the Torrance Library under the sponsorship of Mobil Oil Company. During this time, the Society initiated the special Patrons’ Concerts. These were held at private homes for our many financial supporters as a special “thank you” for their assistance in keeping our programs going. Occasionally it was necessary to hold these as Benefit Concerts when our finances were low. Our President, George Andrews, in 1977 urged us to have more contemporary music and arranged for jazz concerts to be included in our programs.
In planning the 1979/80 season, we decided that we needed a larger hall to accommodate the increasing size of our audiences. The new and acoustically fine recital hall at Harbor College seemed ideal. Under the leadership of Erwin Fishman, we began our association with Los Angeles Harbor College. Their new Music Building was put at our disposal, and we have been enjoying our concerts there ever since.
It became apparent during the 1996/97 season that, because of our growing popularity, we were on the verge of overcrowding the Harbor College Recital Hall. Jim Eninger proposed a new dual-venue format — the Friday-evening concert at Harbor college would be repeated the following Sunday afternoon at the Pacific Unitarian Church in Rancho Palos Verdes. We had used the Pacific Unitarian Church for Patrons’ Concerts, and it proved excellent for chamber music because of its ambience, acoustics, and piano. The following season at Harbor College confirmed our fears — most of the concerts were packed with people sitting in the aisles. The Board of Directors voted unanimously to begin the new dual-venue format with the 1998/99 season. With increasing individual contributions and new grants from the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, we were able to schedule seven ensembles or fourteen concerts, up from nine concerts the previous season. A new $500 “Advocates” category was added to the contribution categories, which now are: Patrons ($45), Sponsors ($75), Guarantors ($100), Benefactors ($250), and Advocates ($500).
Numerous people have served energetically on our Board of Directors through the years. Although some have moved away from the area, many have stayed and continue to work with us. People have also donated the use of their homes for our special Patrons’ Concerts: Bob and Kathy Paul, Paul and Joan Saffo, Don and Jody Sage, Erwin and Alberta Samuelson, Alan and Charlene Steen, Mervin and Frances Steiner Tarlow, Mil and Rae Wyman, Stanley and Leone Zimmerman, Robert and Nadine Kirkpatrick, Robert and Donna Scoular. Board member, Jean Low, set high standards for elegant refreshments at the Patrons’ Concerts, a tradition that Mary Eninger, Pat Marabella, Dorothy Fitzgerald, Robin Paterson, and Jan Simon have carried on in recent years. We thank them all.