Music is truly powerful, creating an untouchable emotional experience felt by all people in any demographic. Peter Jaffe felt this influence from a young age, growing up in Manhattan with musically inclined parents possessing love for all genres. His fathers’ passion for banjo and guitar, and his mothers’ dance training resulted in an influential childhood soundtrack of folk songs sung in the kitchen and Russian composers spilling their soul as the record spins. His musically fueled home life led Peter to begin studying violin at age nine, and playing the electric organ in a garage rock band.
From there, Peter fed his passions as he studied both mathematics and music at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Here is where he met his wife, Jane, a musicologist, who studies the history and theory of music. Peter also began conducting at this time, even working with Leonard Bernstein, a worldwide acclaimed conductor, in his early twenties. “He had such an intensity,” Peter remembers, “He was so professional, but also engaged the musicians on a personal level. It was extremely influential.” Jaffe continued on to graduate studies at Stanford University and quickly landed his first, full-time conducting position with Pomona College. This title initiated and sustained a variety of relationships, like Peter’s involvement in the Aspen Music Festival, Long Beach Symphony and an Eastern European tour with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra just weeks after the Berlin Wall’s demolition.
A newspaper advertisement in search of Stockton Symphony’s new conductor brought Jaffe, his wife and three boys to the Central Valley. Peter was chosen from seven finalists at the end of the season, leaving him humbled and excited for the future. “San Joaquin became our home,” Peter says. “We formed great bonds with all the musicians in the orchestra, with the community and our beloved audience.”
“The artistic quality and excellence of the orchestra has been on a continuous upward curve,” Jaffe says, looking back on the last 20 years spent with the orchestra. “I believe we are a trend setter, and that has always been a dream of mine.” Another dream of Jaffe’s, and one of his most beloved projects, Steppin’ Out with the Stockton Symphony, reaches nearly seven thousand 4th and 5th grade students each year. “They are the best audience you could hope for,” Peter smiles, “They are wonderfully attentive, and they are learning and having fun.” This series, now 18 years in the making, began as a single concert inspired by El Sistema, a Venezuelan educational music program. Today, the program spans three days and has become a model, gaining traction throughout California. “When it’s all said and done,” Jaffe continues, “all that matters is the affect an orchestra has on its audience.” Whether that influence keeps children off the streets or inspires the old, Jaffee stresses that he and the musicians never lose sight of that. “We play for you,” he says. Together, Maestro Jaffe and the Stockton Symphony hope to reach the broadest possible audience, “We’ve been making music for fifty thousand years, we’ve never been without it. It’s such an important part of our culture, and it is such an honor to be apart of that.”