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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

All the Bells and Whistles

The Central Library Concert Series

by Scott PaulsonJanuary 2022

The new Central Library in downtown San Diego.

Pete Miesner, music and arts librarian.

The Central Library Concert Series is the longest continuously running free concert series in San Diego! Formerly called the Central Library Chamber Music Series, this Concert Series began around the time of the “new” Central Library’s opening (meaning the old 820 E St. location) in the 1950s. Librarian William Vere Wolf created this series of live chamber music concerts soon after he was hired in 1955 as a librarian in the newly formed art, music, and recreation section of that Central Library.
Librarians Laurie Bailey and Pete Miesner continue in Vere’s footsteps and currently co-chair the Concert Committee, with a supportive group of volunteer community members who help identify new ensembles in the area. The committee also reviews submissions by soloists and ensembles who contact the library about participating in the Central Library Concert Series and help plan a balanced season.
The Series is primarily a program for classical music performances, but has also featured local jazz ensembles, choirs, family-friendly concert events, and partnership programs with other local music organizations such as San Diego Opera and The Center for World Music.
Laurie: As a colleague once said when asked a similar question…this is a bit like trying to pick your favorite child. The well-known local ensemble from SDSU, the Hausmann Quartet, is just exceptional, and they are always a pleasure to work with, both during Concert Series performances and for our separate SDSU Community Concerts series. I am always pleased to host Trio Céleste, out of Orange County. This trio always selects a varied and exciting program, featuring classical to contemporary composers, and their performances are masterful. I’ve also greatly enjoyed performances by violinist Annelle Gregory. She is incredibly talented. We’ve hosted stand-out performances by Gilbert Castellanos, Gustavo Romero, and, honestly, too many other talented musicians to list here.
Pete: I am always transported when listening to the Hausmann Quartet. They will masterfully delve into traditional pieces but will also delight with modern works as well. We were fortunate to have them open our recent season (a performance which is also available on our YouTube channel). One performance I very much enjoyed in recent years, which veered away from our more classical fare, was Joe Garrison and Night People. Ostensibly a jazz group, this ever-changing ensemble is very experimental and unique. I had only a vague idea of what Garrison’s group was about and was pleasantly surprised by a very moving performance.

The concert piano.

The piano is a seven-foot Steinway Grand Model B, circa 1923. It was refurbished in the late ’90s and is periodically regulated as well as tuned before every piano performance. It’s a beautiful instrument, and we look forward to celebrating our piano’s 100th birthday in the very near future.
Due to our long history (this is our 66th season!), our series is well-known and therefore we receive many submissions each year, especially for solo piano. We’re unable to host everyone who contacts us, and sometimes it might be a few seasons before we’re able to schedule a musician or ensemble.
Laurie: Concert Series performers receive an honorarium, which is modeled after Musicians Union base pay. Musicians sign a Performers Agreement that includes language about personal liability insurance and performance date logistics. Concerts are generally one hour with no intermission.
We strive for approximately 10-12 concerts a year, with a season running from September-May. Unlike similar series around San Diego, we are unable to have a specific date for concerts, for example, the first Sunday of the month. That’s due to a very active schedule of other events happening in downtown San Diego. From Padres games to rock concerts to marathons and, of course, many other non-music programs and lectures happening at the Central Library, we often have to organize our season around these events to ensure that our musicians and patrons can enjoy the music and find a place to park! Occasionally, we still get surprised on a concert day. One now humorous example (before we learned to check *every* local calendar) was when the Rolling Stones started their sound check in Petco Park during a Renaissance music program. It was… an unexpected blending of musical genres.
Laurie: Many branches of the San Diego Public Library have their own concert series programs. Musicians and ensembles can contact those locations directly to inquire about performance opportunities. Here at the Central Library, some ensembles have also been featuring in our Swing Dance Under the Dome program, a swing dance series currently on hiatus during the pandemic, but set to resume in 2022.
Performances are occasionally hosted on the 9th floor of the Shiley Special Events Suite as well. This spacious and more flexible venue allows for large ensemble performances, for example, the 50+ member Villa Musica Summer Orchestra, as well as dance and theater performances, and any performance that benefits from an “in the round” seating arrangement. As a bonus, it also has an incredible view.
Pete: In addition to the Neil Morgan Auditorium and the 9th floor Shiley Event Room, we have had performances on the outdoor 9th floor Qualcomm Terrace (which is actually a great sounding “room”). In the ground floor courtyard, we have had performances by large choral groups, rock ‘n’ roll groups, brass bands and, most recently, a well-received performance by the Globe Theater’s Globe for All show.
The library offers other one-off performances be they musical, theatrical, dance, or lecture. The Swing Dance Under the Dome is usually conducted with canned music, but quarterly we have a big dance with live music—this is always a very exciting program. Other times we host events corresponding to holidays or other related programming that is happening at the library, such as a music event in the courtyard for Comicon or a brass band for 4th of July.
These spaces are also available through our Special Events team for folks who want to rent the spaces for private events – weddings, corporate events…
The Neil Morgan Auditorium’s capacity is 300 and is approximately 5,000 sq. feet. The auditorium features a folding back glass wall that opens to the Garden Courtyard. It also features public art and library-inspired fixtures, such as the open book-themed sinks in the bathrooms and the popular book wall, an installation by internationally acclaimed artist Donald Lipsky. The piece is titled “Hiding My Candy” and features thousands of recycled books attached to the wall.
When attending a live performance, putting money in the little donation box is easiest. But for those enjoying virtual performances, or those wishing to support at a specific time in their gift-giving, see Laurie’s note, here:
The Friends of the San Diego Central Library are the main source of concert funding. People can visit their website and click on Join/Support to donate online or they can write a check and put “Concert Series” on the memo line if they really wanting to gear that money toward this program.
The Friends support SO MUCH that is happening at the Central Library and, especially, programming. We couldn’t do it without them!
More questions about Central Library’s Concert Series? Contact librarians Laurie and Pete at
ABOUT LAURIE AND PETE, the librarians who lead the Central Library Concert Committee
Laurie Bailey is a librarian II in the art, music, and recreation section at San Diego Public Library. She curates the Concert Series and Opera Insights Series as well as other music and art programs at the Central Library. She also serves as a reference librarian and performs outreach and collection development duties. Prior to her work with SDPL, she was costume and textiles librarian at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in music and dramatic arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Library and Information Science from San José State University.
Pete Miesner has been working with the San Diego Public Library for 24 years, the last eight as the managing librarian for the art, music and recreation service area at the Central Library. As a local musician, he currently performs with the traditional jazz combo, the Zzymzzy Quartet, and the rock and soul group Chloe Lou and the Liddells. He is a former member of San Diego bands the Crawdaddys, the Tell-Tale Hearts, and the Towne Criers.
Upcoming concerts in the Winter/Spring 2022 Central Library Concert Series
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 @ 6:30pm
Camarada, featuring Peter Sprague, guitar
Peter Sprague, guitar
Mackenzie Leighton, bass
Beth Ross Buckley, flute
Camarada’s opening concert for 2022, titled Good Vibes will feature Peter Sprague originals as well as arrangements of works by the Beatles, Piazzolla, and Jobim.
Tuesday, February 22, 2022 @ 6:30pm
Trio Arpavioluta
Featuring Päivikki Nykter, violin and viola
Cathy Blickenstaff, flute
Laura Vaughan, harp
Trio Arpavioluta performs “Love, Light, Luminous,” a program highlighting works by Leclair, Renié, Dorff, Glazunov, Ibert, Fauré, and Cui.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 @ 6:30pm
Cracow Duo
Jan Kalinowski, cello
Marek Szlezer, piano
The Central Library is pleased to host the Cracow Duo during their United States tour. Their concert will feature works by famous and lesser-known Polish composers.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022 @ 6:30pm
Katie Polit, soprano
Tina Chong, piano
This concert will feature a vibrant collection of classical and contemporary vocal selections by Mozart, Viardot, Barber, Higdon, and Ginastera.

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