Santa Barbara Folk Orchestra at Presidio Chapel

Thirty-Member Troupe Performed Music of Spain

Santa Barbara Folk Orchestra | Credit: Courtesy

Folk Orchestra Santa Barbara, one of the more unique and ambitious musical traditions in town, was founded by multi-instrumentalist, singer, and audience-friendly toastmaster Adam Phillips. Now in its third season, the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara (FOSB) embraces a specific theme or cultural world tradition, boasting Phillips’s arrangements made for nearly 30 musicians, including strings and relevant indigenous instruments for each occasion.

Last weekend’s edition, titled “Spanish,” benefitted from a natural kinship with their home venue, Presidio Chapel, built in 1782 for Spanish soldiers moving northward from Mexico. (Phillips’s troupe are officially deemed “Musicians in Residence” by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, which presides over the Presidio.) To the surprise of some, this Spanish affair opened with a bracing rush of bagpipe sound, with the ancient Galician pipes called gaitas. Beginning the second half, “Himno Galego” showcased a robust double dose of piping from Phillips and Laurie Rasmussen, who was otherwise perched at her main ax, the harp.

Santa Barbarans have been trained to glom onto flamenco as the presiding Spanish musical flavor, and the gifted area flamenco guitarist Chris Fossek was a special guest for that cause (abetted by guitarist Matthew Roy, playing Isaac Albéniz’s “Asturias,” and elsewhere played the Spanish hurdy gurdy). But Spanish music encompasses many regions, histories, and sub-idioms, as represented by Phillips’s diverse program here, with music tapping Andalusian, Basque, Galician, and Sephardic Jewish styles.

To close, the compass tilted north to Ireland with Phillips’s traditional end game, a hearty singalong to “The Parting Glass.” Coming attractions: The orchestra takes on the ’60s in September and goes Scottish in December. The world of FOSB keeps turning. 

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