Tomasz Golka conducting

The COVID-19 pandemic was especially challenging for the Riverside Philharmonic. Restrictions made it impossible to bring together a large group of musicians, let alone bring in an audience, but the organization quickly adjusted.

In 2020, during the most restrictive days of the lockdown, the Philharmonic shared “Living Room Concerts” on YouTube.  These short concerts featured several of symphony’s musicians who each recorded performances from the safety of their homes. The 2020-2021 season that followed was all-virtual. Musicians were socially distanced and masked or positioned behind plexiglass. These short concerts are still available on the Riverside Philharmonic’s YouTube page.

While live concerts were in hiatus, the Riverside Philharmonic’s Music Director and its Board of Directors utilized this time to strengthen their commitment to the organization, plan and deeply consider its future.

“We have taken another look at how we do things,” Board President Virginia Blumenthal said. “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean you get rid of it; you just need to reinvigorate it.”

Some of the lessons the organization has learned in presenting virtual concerts will continue but bringing audiences together to experience music will always be at its heart. As the Riverside Philharmonic brought people back to experience music in person this season, the joy they experienced was clear, according to Blumenthal. One particular concert for youth at the Cesar Chavez Community Center had musicians positioned on the floor where kids could see them up close.

“You should have seen their faces watching as they were just 10 feet away,” Blumenthal said. “When they walked out at the end, they were all beaming.”

While this season is about to close, the Riverside Philharmonic is already planning for its next season which starts in the fall. One of the organization’s goals is to highlight music representing the diverse communities that make up the region.

Conductor Tomasz Golka and Board President Virginia Blumenthal

“For musicians, coming together to make music is our bread and butter not just monetarily but for feeding our souls,” Music Director and Conductor, Tomasz Golka said. “I believe music is for everyone. I want everyone to feel like there is something for them at the philharmonic.”

The Riverside Philharmonic depends on donations to keep ticket costs reasonable and support its educational outreach programs. This has been especially challenging during the last two years when they were not able to present full concerts. While the cost of business was reduced, there were still expenses. However, the volunteer Board of Directors worked hard to raise funds to keep the music going during its hiatus and still needs support.

Recently, the Riverside Philharmonic received a grant from the XX Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The organization welcomes donations, sponsorships and season ticket holders.

The Riverside Philharmonic’s Spring Finale will be held on May 28, 2022, at 7:30 pm at Riverside City College Coil School for the Arts. The concert will open with Mieczysław Karłowicz’s Serenade for Strings. Guest artist Fiona Shea will be performing perform the Violin Concerto #1 in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch. The concert will end with Symphony #5 in E-flat major; Op. 82 by Jean Sibelius.

Those wishing to purchase tickets can visit the Philharmonic’s website. Attendees should note that Riverside City College requires proof of vaccination and I.D. for attendees 12 years of age and older to enter the concert hall.

“Attend the concert and bring your kids and neighbors,” Blumenthal said. “Ask your next-door neighbors if they have season tickets. Contribute. Help not just keep the Riverside Philharmonic alive but keep it flourishing.”

More Information: (951) 787-0251 or

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, April 2022 

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