Remembering Dawn Foster-Dodson (1959~2017)

Dawn Foster-Dodson, 1959–2017

On July 24, we lost to cancer Dawn Foster-Dodson — a talented cellist and long-time member of the California Symphony family of musicians. Our 2017–18 season opener concert, LYRICAL DREAMS, is dedicated to her memory.

Dawn joined the California Symphony in 1992 and she continued to play for us through until last season. According to music director Donato Cabrera, “Dawn glowed. Perhaps others would call it an aura but whatever it was, she brightened the room. Not too long after I became music director, we performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic, Scheherazade, and Dawn was our principal cellist for that concert. She played the many cello solos with such aplomb and musicality, but it was her gentle countenance and personality that shone through.”

Dawn was born and raised in Lafayette. She received her B.M. degree in music performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1982. In her subsequent career, she performed as a soloist on most of the major concert series in the Bay Area.

In addition to playing for the California Symphony, she also acted as Principal Cellist with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, Reno Philharmonic, and the Fresno Philharmonic. For 27 years she played with the San Jose Symphony and then the Silicon Valley Symphony, and the MidSummer Mozart Festival Orchestra, and she freelanced with most of the other Bay Area orchestras. Dawn performed as a concerto soloist with the San Francisco Concert Orchestra, Oakland Youth Orchestra and she premiered the “Concerto №1 Scenes from the Wildwood” which was written for her and the Los Angeles African American Chamber Orchestra by Josephine Saunders Herbison.

Outside of her orchestra work, she was frequently the Principal Cellist at the Best of Broadway theatrical productions at the Orpheum, Curran, and Golden Gate Theaters in San Francisco, on plays such as “Phantom of the Opera”, The King and I”, and “Miss Saigon.”

She also played with many of the world’s favorite artists including Pavarotti, Marion Anderson, YoYo Ma, Andre Watts, Jon Nakamatsu, Mercedes Ellington, Ray Charles, Liza Minelli, Stevie Wonder, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Ben Vereen, Rod Stewart, Johnny Mathis, Smokey Robinson and others. She had an active teaching studio, The Lafayette Cello Academy, which she created and of which she was immensely proud. She joined the Performing Arts Department faculty at St. Mary’s College in 1998, coaching chamber music ensembles and teaching string classes. Dawn was creator of the famed “Vibrato Doctor Course” — a tutorial course she taught to improve Vibrato technique.

Passionate about her work, Dawn influenced the lives of many who were lucky enough to call her their teacher, friend or colleague. She is remembered by husband Kenneth Dodson, son Austin and his partner Nicole, and by son Kenny. She is much missed by her extended family of brothers and sisters at the California Symphony.

“We have lost a member of our musical family and we miss and mourn her, but I know that whenever we make music together, Dawn’s shining presence will continue to be felt and celebrated.” — Donato Cabrera.

Our season opener is dedicated to her memory.

Here is video of Dawn playing with the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra Ensemble in 2012.

LYRICAL DREAMS is at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek on Sunday September 24 at 4pm and includes:

Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915

Stookey YTTE (Yield To Total Elation)

Mahler Symphony №4

Tickets are available at 925.943.SHOW and Prices start at just $33 per concert.


The California Symphony, now in its fifth season under the leadership of Music Director Donato Cabrera, is a world-class, professional orchestra based in Walnut Creek, in the heart of the San Francisco East Bay since 1990. Our vibrant concert series is renowned for featuring classics alongside American repertoire and works by living composers. The Orchestra is comprised of musicians who have performed with the orchestras of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and others, and many of its musicians have been performing with the California Symphony for nearly all its existence.

Outside of the concert hall, the symphony actively supports music education for social change through its El Sistema-inspired Sound Minds program at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, CA. The initiative brings intensive music instruction and academic enrichment to Contra Costa County schoolchildren for free, in an area where 94% of students qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.

We also host the highly competitive Young American Composer-in-Residence program, which this year welcomes its first female composer, Katherine Balch.

California Symphony has launched the careers of some of today’s most-performed soloists and composers, including violinists Sarah Chang and Anne Akiko Meyers, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and composers such as Mason Bates, Christopher Theofanidis, and Kevin Puts. The Orchestra performs at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

For more information, please visit


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