Founding members of the Marin Music Chest – which turns 75 this year – invited many of the world’s greatest musical artists to present outdoor concerts at Forest Meadows on the campus of Dominican College well before it became a university.
Come they did: Isaac Stern, Arthur Rubenstein, Gregor Piatogorsky, Rise Stevens, Mario Lanza, Jose Iturbi, Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Fiedler.
They were among a legion of performers who drew huge crowds from 1934 to the mid-1970s, after which freeway noise and competition from San Francisco made the concerts infeasible.
Part of the founders’ dream in 1933 had been to raise scholarship money for young musicians in Marin.
That dream persists 75 years later.
In April, 13 young Marin musicians were awarded scholarships ranging from $700 to $1,000 to continue their musical studies. They are among 500 who over the years have received Music Chest scholarships totaling more than $1 million. Many former winners have gone on to distinguished careers in music: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David del Tredici; soprano Jane Marsh, who sang at the Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas; Joseph Alessi, principal trombone with the New York Philharmonic; Joanna Berman, who became a principal dancer for the San Francisco Ballet, and many others….
The organization began in 1933, but had its first outdoor concert in September 1934. Subscribers could attend for 25 cents; nonsubscribers had to pay $3.
The debut artist was romantic baritone Nelson Eddy, who became internationally famous the next year when he played opposite Jeanette MacDonald in the musical film, “Naughty Marietta.” An Independent Journal story said the crowd was more than 4,000. Eddy made a second appearance in 1935 and was mobbed by autograph-seekers.
The concerts, a minimum of four a year, were held in the Forest Meadows area of the Dominican campus, to the right of the current home of the Marin Shakespeare Company. Concertgoers sat under the trees on 1,000 benches furnished by the chest.