Appealing across the ages – Santa Cecilia Orchestra

Ted Ayala

When most people think of classical musicians, generally Europe comes to mind and, to a lesser extent, Asia. Yet many forget that Latin America has a rich legacy of classical music itself, giving birth to some of the greatest musicians: Claudio Arrau, Gustavo Dudamel, Martha Argerich – and Los Angeles’ own Sonia Marie de Leon de Vega, music director of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra (SCO).

Going on its 18th season, the SCO fills a special niche in classical music, bringing to light not just great music by Latin American masters, but bringing this music to Los Angeles’ Latino community.

“We have a specific mission to the Latino community,” said de Leon de Vega, “and we’re the only orchestra in the US that does this.”

While the SCO does work hard to reach out to the Latino community, you don’t have to be Latino to enjoy the SCO’s music. Great music and music-making transcends all racial and ethnic boundaries. Season after season, the SCO’s infectious and outstanding musicianship have garnered for itself a wide audience that grows larger by the year.

Part of the SCO’s continued success is in its intelligent and adventurous programming. While many orchestras are content to rehash the classics ad nauseam or include concessions to pop music, the SCO has distinguished itself with programs that take audiences to unfamiliar sonic landscapes that are always a delight to explore. “[The] power and beauty of great music is accessible to anyone. You don’t have to dumb it down,” said de Leon de Vega.

Another ingredient of the SCO’s success is its ability to appeal to children and families. Indeed, one will often find many children at a SCO concert – and (surprise!) they’re nearly always silent, captivated by the sounds de Leon de Vega conjures out of her orchestra.

Of course, none of these would matter without the sterling musicianship of the orchestra itself. Though a “community orchestra,” the SCO is no rag-tag ensemble of dubious merit. Every member of the SCO is a full-time musician and it shows. The SCO plays with faultless intonation, unity, and sheen that would be the envy any orchestra.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, the SCO will be performing its “Passion Unleashed” concert that will include Brahms’s Third Symphony, Mendelssohn‘s Hebrides Overture, and Vieuxtemps’ Fifth Violin Concerto with guest violinist Danielle Belen, whose thrilling musicianship mesmerized this audience at a Positive Motions concert in Glendale last April. The concert will take place at Occidental College’s Thorne Hall (1600 Campus Road in Eagle Rock) and will begin at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $26; $7 for youth. For more information, call the Santa Cecilia Orchestra at (323) 259-3011 or visit the website at