MountainTop Strings of California

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The MountainTop Strings of California, created in 2011, is based in Big Bear Lake and is under the direction of cellist and music educator Sharon Rizzo. MountainTop Strings is a small ensemble of string musicians that was created for the purpose of educating youth to concertize locally and tour abroad. These young musicians range from 13-17 years of age.

Our musicians have the joy of rehearsing and performing in an artistic and inspiring small mountain community in Southern California, located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet. With over 300 days of sunshine each year, summer temperatures average 80 degrees, and winter brings about 100 inches of snowfall.

Since the first concert tour to Italy and Austria in 2013, MTSC has grown in popularity both on and off the mountain, having performed many concerts and community events, contributing to the overall cultural

vision and enhancement of the mountain community.

The MountainTop Strings have performed in concerts and workshops in prestigious venues in Italy and Austria, including Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Cremona Summer Series, Istituto Boccherini Musicale in Lucca, Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome, and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. In 2017, MTSC was accepted to perform in the National Youth Concert in the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The Summer 2019 Italy concert tour featured concerts at the Pantheon in Rome as well as a festival along the Tiber River, Il Lungo Tevere. Additional stops included Chiesa di San Filippo Neri in Florence, 

Duomo di Orvieto, as well as a special concert at Palazzo Ducale with the Filarmonica Sestrese in Genova. 

MTSC concluded their concert tour with a contemporary concert of light rock, jazz and film music at the Piazza San Fedele in Como. 

The MountainTop Strings are most known for their unique performances of a wide range of eclectic musical styles. Performances may range from 4 to 24 musicians, and repertoire consists of the Baroque music of Vivaldi, Corelli and Bach, as well as folk music from around the world. Also, they may frequently be seen playing rock music of Led Zeppelin, Coldplay, Sting, The Beatles, Journey and more, to create delightful programs to share with many types of audiences.

MTSC musicians are held to very high standards of work ethic and professionalism. In addition to long rehearsal hours in the evenings and on weekends, different combinations of musicians can be seen across the mountain performing at over 50 concerts and community events per year. The musicians raise much of their funds for tours and extensive music education expenses through the utilization of their skills by performing in the community.

Musicians have developed lifelong friendships and a unique bond with each other through the successes and challenges of music, world travel and hard work. In addition to music, MTSC musicians juggle heavy academic commitments and are also extremely high achievers in many other areas. 

The MountainTop Strings of California is a non-profit organization under 501(C)(3). 

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Snow Summit, Big Bear Lake, CA

June 15, 2019

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Piazza San Fedele, Como, Italy

July 3, 2019

About Our Founders

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Sharon Rizzo, Director and Co-Founder

Sharon Rizzo  has been teaching strings in the Southern California mountains since the year 2000.  Through the Bear Valley Unified School District, the Lighthouse Youth Orchestras and the Arrowhead Arts Youth String Ensembles, her programs have grown to over 200 students. Because of the dedication of her students, and the help of many community members and parents, these programs continue to improve and thrive. Her orchestras and individual students have won awards for their outstanding performances, and are becoming recognized in Southern California for their excellence in Strings. Sharon and her students can be seen performing all genres of music from Bach to Rock in many unique venues both on and off the mountain.

An accomplished and professional cellist, Sharon holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Connecticut, a Master of Music from the University of California, Irvine, and an Artist Certificate from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas where she was accepted on a full scholarship as the only American in the program for that year.  In addition, Sharon holds a California State Teaching Credential in Music from the University of Redlands. Sharon has performed in many professional symphony orchestras, and can be found performing regularly with the Redlands Symphony Orchestra. Sharon’s specialty is chamber music, as she is the cellist and one of the founding members of the quartet Bella Musica. Her affiliation with these professional ensembles has allowed her to not only practice her craft at an extremely high level, but to set an example of excellence for her students, set a high artistic standard, and share musical experiences with them.

Sharon was fortunate to have the opportunity when she was younger to travel and perform in many places both in the United States and abroad. Some of these experiences include the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado (her inspiration for creating a string program in a mountain community), the Oregon Coast Music Festival & the Rome Festival Orchestra in Italy, both as a student, and later a professional. Sharon has also performed with touring groups to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, and Canada.

In 2011, Sharon founded the MountainTop Strings of California, which consists of high school strings students from both her Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead programs.  This ensemble was also created specifically for the purpose of travelling and performing abroad. One of Sharon’s dreams since she began teaching, has always been to take a high school strings ensemble on a performance tour to Europe. After 11 years of dreaming, it finally became a reality when the MountainTop Strings of California took its inaugural performance tour to Europe in June of 2013 with performances in Italy and Austria. The second tour took place throughout Italy in 2016, with another Italy tour in the summer of 2019. The MTSC was also invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in 2017.

Sharon is a native of Norwalk, Connecticut who began her strings study at age 7 in an experimental public school strings program, which has led to her lifelong passion of string playing and dedication to her students.

Ms. Rizzo currently resides in Big Bear, California with her husband Jay, and her daughter Sophia who is also a cellist.

Barbara King, Pianist and Co-Founder

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In 2010, Barbara and her cellist friend, Sharon Rizzo, co-founded the MountainTop Strings of California to create new and exciting artistic opportunities for dedicated string musicians from the ages of 13-18. As a result, in the past 10 years, the MountainTop Strings has performed many unique concerts, including four stellar tours in Italy and Austria, and an unforgettable concert performance in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Ms. King spends much of her efforts as Community Liaison for the program, organizing concerts and fundraising for the Orchestra, as well as supplying pianistic support when needed.  She is proud to have seen many audiences brought to their feet in rousing appreciation as the MountainTop Strings young musicians share their musical gifts with the world.


Ms. King is a classically trained pianist holding a BA in Music from CSULB and graduate courses from Teachers’ College in Columbia University in New York City.  For 35 years, Barbara taught group piano and comprehensive musicianship in her music studio in Manhattan Beach, CA. She served on the Board of Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC) South Bay Branch, was a consultant for the International Piano Teaching Foundation (IPTF), and worked with the Manhattan Beach School District as a music specialist and arts consultant. She is currently the Vice President of the Arts Council of Big Bear Valley. Utilizing her musical talent, she enjoys being the piano accompanist for many young vocalists and instrumentalists on and off the mountain.

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