Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at the Santa Barbara Bowl in August | Credit: Carl Perry

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on December 22, 2022. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

Live music’s prospects began grimly in the first weeks of 2022. In the fall of 2021, high hopes for the return of concert/club action — that which many of us thrive on and even live for — were raised and then dashed. Call it being “Delta-downed.” And yet, after a depressingly fallow January, live music more or less roared back to life in Santa Barbara, reminding us of what we had missed.

Some of the most sublime moments I experienced this past year came with my being granted audience with special solo keyboard concerts. Luminous and contemporary-minded pianist Conor Hanick officially made the 805 safe for German composer Hans Otte’s The Book of Sounds, a legendary and mesmerizing mosaic which Hanick played both as a highlight of the Ojai Music Festival and then as the launch of the Music Academy of the West’s new “Mariposa Series,” in the inspired space that is Hahn Hall. That same blessed venue provided a perfect ambience for possibly my own musical highlight of the year, when French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau gave us the full and authentic measure of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations, presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures.

Conor Hanick performing at the Music Academy of the West | Credit: Zach Mendez

Jazz offerings in town were once again and rerun-ish, with highlights both grand and intimate: annual visitor Wynton Marsalis brought out his polished but dogmatically staid Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Granada early in the year, and wondrous vocalist Kate McGarry and her partner/guitarist Keith Ganz scored a coup with an intimate encounter at a memorable house concert this fall.

One encouraging sign of music’s re-emergence came to pass up at the Santa Barbara Bowl. A heftier-than-usual concert roster included the friendly hometown hero’s return of Jack Johnson and band, in a two-nighter which felt like a re-coming-out. The Bowl also boasted one of its all-too-rare classical concerts in June, a Beethoven’s Fifth-equipped orchestral blowout celebrating the Music Academy of the West’s milestone 75th anniversary.

Jean Rondeau playing the harpsichord at Hahn Hall | Credit: Zach Mendez

In other orchestral news, the 103-year-old concert presenting organization CAMA sprang back to life, ushering in such international favorites as the London Symphony Orchestra (with uber-maestro Sir Simon Rattle in tow), Rattle’s former hometown ensemble the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and the worldly treasure from down the freeway, the L.A. Philharmonic. The Santa Barbara Symphony kept up as healthy a pace, with highlights including the multi-level Santa Barbara tribute of Cody Westheimer’s freshly-inked Wisdom of the Water, Earth & Sky.

Forthwith, a year’s cross-genre Twelve Best List of live music in the 805 events, in reverse chronological order. (The operative caveat: the humble columnist may have spaced out on things left out.)

– Jean Rondeau, Goldberg Variations, Hahn Hall
– Conor Hanick, Hans Otte’s The Book of Sounds, at Ojai Music Festivaland in Hahn Hall, opening new Music Academy of the West “Mariposa” series
– Spencer the Gardener, Lobero Theater
– Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz, house concert in Santa Barbara
– City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting, Granada Theatre
– Dhaka Braka, Granada Theatre
– Charley Crockett, Arlington Theatre
– Jack Johnson, Santa Barbara Bowl
– Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Santa Barbara Bowl
– London Symphony Orchestra, presented by CAMA and Music Academy of the West, Granada Theatre
– L.A. Phil, featuring Elizabeth Ogonek’s Cloudlines, Granada Theatre
– Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Arlington Theatre

Jack Johnson at the Santa Barbara Bowl | Credit: Matt Perko

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Open Ears and Heart re-Quired

Early in last weekend’s long-awaited return of the Quire of Voyces’ “Mysteries of Christmas” concert, intrepid founder-director Nathan Kreitzer gazed affectionately at the healthy-sized audience in the St. Anthony’s Chapel. “It is so great to see people at a concert,” he effused. “You have no idea.” Actually, we in the long-deprived listening throng, have a very good idea.

For its first fully-engaged Christmas program since 2019, the prized a cappella Quire showed us what we’ve come to love about the beautifully integrated and sonorous group, and its cherished Christmas tradition in this entrancing sacred space.

Quire of Voyces | Credit: Clint Weismann

The repertoire relied on the customary historical leap from Renaissance to contemporary music, a leap made literal via the unbroken link of works by 16th century composer Thomas Tallis and living composer James McMillan. This year, the focus turned more towards living composers, including three pleasing arrangements by Minnesotan Matthew Culloton, head of The Singers, and with a direct connection to the lineage of choral hero Dale Warland.

Philip Stopford’s “Lully, Lulla, Lallay” imparted a melancholic lament, on the theme of King Herod’s infanticide decree, while Swedish Sofia Söderberg wove sonic magic, with modal harmonies, in her “Noël Nouvelet.”

Composer in residence Stephen Dombek had something of a starring role this year, from the opener “Once in Royal David’s City — ” with boy soprano Michael Lumsdaine issuing the first, pure vocal sounds of the concert from a choir loft perch — to an especially fresh, notable arrangement of “I Heard the Bells.” In the “Bells” according to Dombek, bell-like effects and a whole tone free fall in the “there is no peace on earth” passage line the structural design, regaining tranquil composure by the end.

Closure and composure also graced the intermission-less concert as a whole, with the customary finale of “Silent Night,” as arranged by Malcom Sargent and, in its way, a ritual which seems like a necessary ingredient for a satisfying Christmas in Santa Barbara. “Mysteries,” we have missed you.

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