Nino Marcelli (1890-1967)

ninomarcelliNino Marcelli was the creator of the San Diego Symphony orchestra.

He was born in Rome. When he was a small child the family moved to Santiago, Chile. He showed an early aptitude for music, and attended the National Music Conservatory there.

Marcelli broadened his music experience during travels to Europe and North America, and was a bandmaster in the U.S. Army in France during World War 1. After the war, he was a cellist in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and then, as countless thousands of others have done, came to San Diego seeking a better climate. He was engaged in November of 1920, says a San Diego Union clipping, “to take charge of the high school orchestra” it wasn’t necessary to say which high school for at that time there was only one, San Diego High.

Within a few years, Marcelli had developed the school orchestra to such a level of excellence that it had a national reputation. It played on national radio broadcasts, a rare achievement in the 1930s, and played concerts in Los Angeles to critical acclaim.

But there was no outlet for the young musicians to pursue their love of classical music in San Diego. So, against difficult odds because there was no precedent here, Marcelli formed the Civic Symphony Orchestra, obtained a grant from Mr. Appleton S. Bridges to finance it, and staged the inaugural concert at Spreckels Theatre on April 11, 1927.

In ensuing years the orchestra played series of summer concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion and later Balboa Park Bowl. By then it had incorporated, formed a volunteer Board of Directors, and embarked on the perennial challenge — never easy for any symphony orchestra in the world — of making financial ends meet. Marcelli continued as its Music Director till 1938.

When he died in 1967, aged 77, a Tribune editorial said

“… the late Nino Marcelli contributed more than music. In no small way, his founding of the Symphony created the awareness and drive that have made San Diego not only the cultural but an educational, scientific, and economic capital of the West. Mr. Marcelli’s niche in the history of our community is secure.”

Return to Biography.