Santa Barbara, it’s a wonderful town. The Mission’s up, and the Funk Zone is down.
Granted, those lyrics don’t have quite the same ring as the original. But a slightly altered version of Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway classic “New York, New York” seems an appropriately joyous way to welcome the Manhattan-based orchestra he famously led.
In an innovative partnership with the Music Academy of the West, the New York Philharmonic — the nation’s oldest and most prestigious symphony — is on its way to Santa Barbara. And unlike the sailors in On the Town, who had a single day to take in the city’s sights, the musicians have already signed up for repeat visits.
Music director Alan Gilbert and certain key players will be on hand for each of the next four summers, teaching and performing as part of the Music Academy’s offerings. And in two of those years — 2015 and 2017 — the full orchestra will be here, working with the academy’s 140 young musicians (with an average age of just 23) and performing concerts for the community.
“We didn’t want to be simply a tour stop for the Philharmonic,” said Music Academy president Scott Reed. “Rather than just performing and leaving, they will be immersing themselves in the community.”
If all goes as hoped, the arrangement will benefit both organizations. “They’re looking at expanding their teaching profile; they feel that’s an important part of the evolution of the orchestra,” Reed said. “Our priorities aligned.”
The partnership is more than two years in the making, according to Reed, who has long been pondering how to enhance the academy’s orchestral music program while retaining its emphasis on chamber music and master classes. That issue was on his mind when he went to hear the New York Philharmonic in May 2012, when CAMA brought the renowned ensemble to the Granada Theatre.
“I was backstage talking to Alan and Matthew VanBesien, the orchestra’s executive director,” Reed recalled. “It was one of those conversations that ended with, ‘We should talk about doing something together sometime.’”
At Reed’s invitation, VanBesien returned that summer and served as a judge in the academy’s annual Concerto Night competition. Impressed, he played the same role the following summer. Afterward, he and Reed started talking seriously about a joint project.
“They are very interested in getting increased exposure on the West Coast,” Reed said, noting that the orchestra has a regular residency in Vail, Colorado, and will soon inaugurate another in Shanghai, China. “Great things are happening here on the musical scene, with the L.A. Philharmonic at the forefront. That’s a shift and one I feel really proud to be a part of.”
Reed declined to put a dollar figure on the project, except to say that boardmember Mike Keston and his wife, Linda, have donated $1.2 million as a kick-off gift. “Our board is fiscally prudent,” he insisted. “We have a funding plan in place that fully covers everything.”
This summer, Gilbert will be in Montecito for a week, teaching two master classes and conducting a chamber orchestra concert. The ensemble, made up of Music Academy fellows, will perform July 26 in the Lobero Theatre.
The orchestra’s assistant conductor, Joshua Weilerstein, will conduct this year’s Concerto Night concert July 19 in the Granada. Reed noted that he attended the Music Academy as a violinist and won the Concerto Night competition in 2008, making this “kind of a homecoming for him.” (And not just for him: 12 Music Academy alumni are members of the orchestra.)
During the final week of this summer’s session, three of the Philharmonic’s principal players will arrive to do some coaching and teaching. They’ll also oversee an audition process, selecting 10 fellows who will spend 10 days in New York in early January.
“Each will be assigned a New York Philharmonic mentor,” Reed explained. “They’ll rehearse and perform with the New York Philharmonic as part of that week’s subscription concerts. That will be repeated each of the next four years, so a total of 40 fellows will go through that program.”
In 2015, the entire New York Philharmonic will spend three days in Santa Barbara to work with Music Academy fellows and give a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. “The idea is to create a kind of Central Park experience here in Santa Barbara,” Reed said. “We hope people will bring their families. Ticket prices will be low. We want to fill the Bowl with an enthusiastic audience.”
Gilbert will return by himself for a week in 2016, and the entire orchestra comes back in 2017. Plans call for the Philharmonic and the Music Academy Orchestra to combine forces for a giant concert to be conducted by Gilbert and performed twice — once in Santa Barbara and a second time in Los Angeles.
Reed added that the relationship may be extended. “We chose four years because there was a natural culmination opportunity — 2017 will be the Music Academy’s 70th anniversary,” he said. “But we’ll both be closely assessing how this works. Both of us have an equal stake in making this successful.”
For more on the Music Academy of the West, visit musicacademy.org.