When the Santa Barbara Symphony launches its 65th season on Saturday-Sunday, October 20-21, at the Granada, it will be with a deeper sense of its unique tradition and with a stronger-than-ever commitment to serving the community. After last year’s challenges and a wonderfully redemptive free concert in January 2018 — the first event held in the Granada after the cancellations caused by the Thomas Fire and resulting mudslides — Executive Director Kevin Marvin and Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti agreed that this would be a perfect time to focus on the organization’s Santa Barbara legacy. One way they plan to do so will take place on Friday night, October 19, at the Symphony Ball, when Nancy Chase, who performed in the orchestra’s bass section for 58 years beginning with the founding of the ensemble in 1953, will receive the symphony’s Legacy Award.
I spoke with Chase by phone recently and was charmed by her easy recall and personality-filled descriptions of every phase of the orchestra’s long history. As a student at UCSB in the early 1950s, this tall young woman from Long Beach found herself present at the creation of what would become her lifelong musical home. Born out of the coming together of several professors in the then-fledgling UCSB Music Department, the symphony’s first concert in 1953, Chase remembers, was “step one in the fulfillment of these gentlemen’s dreams” of a permanent resident orchestra for Santa Barbara. In the decades that followed, Chase moved with the symphony through a range of venues, including “the Lobero, the auditorium at the Santa Barbara Junior High School, Sundays at the San Marcos High School theater, the Granada before it became a multiplex, the Arlington, and finally the Granada after its renovation.” Memorable moments for Chase include innumerable musical highlights and the occasional thrilling nonmusical episode, such as the New Year’s Eve concert at the Arlington when the power went out and she and the other musicians had to carry their instruments away from the theater in the dark. Not so easy for the bass section!
Once again, the programming of the orchestra’s season reflects the extraordinary care and powerful intellect of maestro Kabaretti. Opening weekend, George Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue gets paired with an intriguing but less well-known work, the gospel and folk-influenced American Rhapsody of Ernst von Dohnányi. The following month, the orchestra teams up with two other distinguished performing arts organizations, Ensemble Theatre Company and State Street Ballet, for an original staged ballet-theater production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. Stravinsky centennial celebrations are being held all over the world this year, but the only place where one can see this particular performance is right here in Santa Barbara. It’s an all-Stravinsky concert, with the second half occupied by an instrumental Rite of Spring.
New this year is a special holiday pops concert on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 24. Conducted by maestro Kabaretti and featuring Broadway star Capathia Jenkins as vocal soloist, this will surely become a holiday tradition for families. The start of 2019 sees the orchestra delving into some rich material that straddles the line between chamber music and symphonic — the Brahms Double Concerto for violin and cello in January and the Beethoven Triple Concerto in February.
No S.B. Symphony season of the 21st century would be complete without something cinematic, and this year’s selection is spectacular. On Saturday-Sunday, March 16-17, the orchestra will provide live accompaniment to the Academy Award–winning 1984 film Amadeus. If you have not yet had a chance to see how this amazing conjunction of technology and talent works, you must check it out. The Granada is uniquely suited to this futuristic hybrid of musical and cinematic experience. Verdi’s immense masterwork Requiem comes in for the Easter season of April, and the year concludes on a romantic note, with Tchaikovsky’s overture to Romeo and Juliet in May. See you at the symphony!