Baton auction winner will lead Downey symphony

DOWNEY – Just about everyone has imagined themselves leading an orchestra. That fantasy comes true for Jess Zakira Wise on April 11, when she will raise the baton for the opening number at the Downey Symphony’s final concert of the season. Wise’s grandmother won the memorable experience for her by making the winning bid last year in the baton auction the Orchestra holds annually at its spring concert. In fact, her grandmother texted her during the auction and got her enthusiastic agreement!

Wise, a young film producer, is new to conducting but no stranger to the Orchestra. Her grandmother Joyce Osborn played violin and her grandfather Tom Osborn conducted the Orchestra for 20 years until his passing in 2006. And her aunt, Carolyn Osborn, has been concertmistress for 25 years.

Wise says the Symphony “has a very special place in my heart because I grew up watching my granddad and helping him.” Some of her favorite photos are of him at the Orchestra’s annual summer concert in Furman Park.

She adds, “It’s very special to get to honor my granddad and share this experience with my grandma.” Wise will conduct Johann Strauss Jr.’s rousing “Radetzky March.”

Music Director Sharon Lavery has chosen a masterpiece of romantic music for the concert, Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony no. 1.” Several passages where a flute, oboe, and violin take the lead will feature a few of the Orchestra’s many outstanding musicians. The symphony’s haunting and impassioned melodies have made this piece a favorite of audiences around the world.

The program also includes the winner of the Symphony’s Young Artist Competition, Hao Zhou. Still in high school, the 18-year-old will play Jean Sibelius’ powerful “Violin Concerto.” Zhou first performed with an orchestra at the age of nine, and the audience will have the opportunity to hear this brilliant young musician at the beginning of what promises to be an outstanding career in music.

After intermission, this year’s baton auction will be held. Proceeds from the auction provide important support for the Symphony’s concerts and Music in the Schools program, which rely on donations and grants for 80% of their funding. Maestra Lavery works with the winner closely to share her insights into the music and prepare them for their appearance with the Orchestra. Patrons should get ready to bid on this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Good seats are still available at the Downey Theatre Box Office, 8435 Firestone Blvd.; by phone at (562) 861-8211; or online at

Don Marshall in on the Downey Symphonic Society board of directors.