Sunday evening collaboration between Throckmorton Theatre and Mill Valley Chamber draws rave reviews – and inquisitive kiddos.

Scenes from the Sunday evening performances of SF Opera Orchestra musicians affiliated with the Throckmorton Theatre as part of the Miller Ave. street closure each weekend. Courtesy images.

​For Beni Shinohara, the joy of performing outside alongside her fellow San Francisco Opera Orchestra musicians at the #MillerTakeover street closures over the past two months in downtown Mill Valley has come from both ends of the life cycle.

​Shinohara says she loves answering questions from young children who perch themselves across from the performance area in one of the tree beds on the Depot Plaza. “The way they listen to it and ask questions – it’s truly engaging for them and we musicians feel the vibrancy of the young families,” Shinohara says. “Kids are our future and they need to know that there’s more to life than games and YouTube but there is this live classical music that they can also enjoy. It is amazingly remarkable for me to see the enjoyment in their eyes as we perform.”

On the other end of the life cycle, Shinohara and her fellow musicians were thrilled in recent weeks as they’ve seen former regular attendees of the Throckmorton Theatre’s free Wednesday Noon Concert series show up to hear classical music outside on a Sunday instead of the mid-day, mid-week shows they enjoyed so much pre-pandemic.

“It was like a reunion in some ways,” says Shinohara, a former board member of Throckmorton Theatre, the longtime Mill Valley arts hub.

Those Throckmorton concerts, now on hold, are the foundation of a collaboration that has brought live, al fresco classical music to downtown Mill Valley every Sunday evening since early July, and they likely wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the COVID-19 crisis that has ravaged the Bay Area arts and music communities. 

“All those years on the board, my main focus was to connect this lovely theatre in Mill Valley to the whole Bay Area musician community,” Shinohara says.

When SF Opera musicians learned this summer that their fall season had been cancelled, as have all arts and entertainment gatherings of nearly all sizes, they had nowhere to play and were looking for venues.

So when Mill Valley Chamber officials reached out to Throckmorton Theatre founder and executive director Lucy Mercer to see if musicians would be interested in performing at the street closures to complement al fresco dining and shopping, Shinohara and her fellow musicians jumped at the chance.

“Musicians want to perform,” Shinohara says. “That is what we do. Lucy is such a visionary and we’re grateful that we could all make this happen. It has been such a great thing for all of us – a win-win-win.”


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