Performing as a musician changed Nunzio Sisto’s life and he’s hoping to do the same for Coachella Valley youth.
Even though he loved music from an early age, he explains that “I came from a working class family in Staten Island and my parents were not able to afford to send me to Juilliard.” However, he auditioned for the Juilliard Pre-College and won a scholarship there.
His most memorable moment was playing the bassoon solo passages towards the end of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra at Carnegie Hall with the New York Youth Symphony at 19. “It gave me a sense of self-worth that no one could take away,” he says, highlighting the difference in attitude between sports and music.
“We want that picture of an oboe player to get accolades just like the sports player. When a star football player makes a touchdown it’s in the news, but when a kid plays a concerto, it doesn’t make the news. I want to change that.” The goal is to give young musicians a sense of confidence.
“I learned self-discipline and the value of hard work through my music lessons.” Sisto says. “Catch kids at the high school level, give them advanced music instruction, and you’ll be amazed at what they can do. We challenge them in the right way.”
A year ago, he founded the Coachella Valley Philharmonic Society (CVPS), where he serves as director, overseeing performances at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. CVPS is a collection of world-class musicians helping raise funds for the Coachella Valley Youth Training Orchestra. Students receive access to music education and instrumental training thanks to funding provided in part from proceeds raised CVPS performances.
“I know the stress that financial burdens cause families,” he says. “Good instruments are expensive. A good bassoon today costs between $40,000 to $50,000. By offering lessons and scholarships to the Youth Training Orchestra we can help take some of [the financial worry] away.” He added that CVPS also hopes to provide instruments to students.
Sisto specializes in bassoon, the instrument that formed the basis of his college courses: La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in NYC, Juilliard School Pre-College, BA in Bassoon Performance and Composition, Mannes College, Master’s degree in Education from Touro College, NYC. He also plays flute, saxophone, and piano, teaches various instruments, and has had his compositions published. Three years ago, he moved to Palm Springs, saying, “I love it here compared to living in major cities, it’s so beautiful.”
The CVPS’s Chamber Series features a small ensemble and soloists performing a four-part program with works selected from the Early Music and Baroque periods, Classical, Romantic, and the 20th century with two performances a month.
Classically trained viola player John Scanion, who has played in studios with the LA Opera Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic, and at the Hollywood Bowl and Broadway shows, performs with the CVPS. He moved to Palm Springs in 2019 at the height of the pandemic. He notes that the concerts are gaining popularity.
“I was surprised. I expected that maybe 10 people would show up for our first concert, but more than 100 were there,” he says. “The concerts also give me a chance to meet other accomplished musicians, people who love classical music, plus it gives others the opportunity to hear and learn about it.”
Scanion says many of these musicians would also be happy to contribute to teaching students. “We want to share it and give students opportunities to perform live. Eventually the goal is to have a full chamber orchestra.”
In fact, Theater 3 at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, where CVPS gives their concerts, is being remodeled to improve the experience. There will be 120 seats, a backstage area, theater equipment, lights, and sound. More than $1 million has been raised to date, starting with gatherings in private homes.
As an extra inducement to attend, Scanion notes that the concert theater also has a bar for those who want a cocktail or a glass of wine to sip while listening to the best classical music. “However, we won’t be drinking on stage,” he jokes.
More information: For the dates and times of the concerts, check out the Palm Springs Cultural Center at https://psculturalcenter.org/