[Casa Magazine] Guest Conductor Bob Bernhardt - The Hollywood Connection
By Daniel Kepl, CASA Magazine
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With party hats and noisemakers provided at the door, the upcoming Santa Barbara Symphony New Year's Eve Pops Concert at the Granada Theatre Tuesday night promises to be a blast--pun intended. It's the one concert of the year when the audience gets to make rowdy noises back at the orchsetra with their kazoos, and generally enjoy some mischief. Guest Conductor Bob Bernhardt returns to the podium for his third pops concert roustabout with locals, and he can't wait.
Interviewed recently from his 11th floor hotel room in gloomy downtown Edmonton, where he was conducting a week of concerts with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in minus 13 degree centigrade weather, the Principal Pops Conductor of the Louisville Orchestra was in a celebratory mood anticipating a visit to our balmy clime. "I have a charmed guest conducting life these days," he remarked, "which has included for the third year a spectacular time in Santa Barbara. The orchestra is wonderful, the staff has been great: we have a growing relationship which I really love."
Developing lasting musical ties seems to be natural for this disarminlgy down to earth maestro. He has enjoyed over 30 years as conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony, and now serves as Principal Pops Conductor; he has built a wonderful relationshiop over nine continuous seasons guest conducting the Edmonton Symphony a couple of times each season; Bernhardt enjoys a very busy career in Louisville as Principal Pops Conductor twelve weeks each season, and now is building growing rapport with audience, musicians and Symphony staff in Santa Barbara.
Tuesday's Granada Theatre concert will tip its hat to Hollywood film, ballroom dancing with members of the State Street Ballet tripping the light fantastic on stage and in the aisles, and upcoming concerts in the Symphony season, including the all-Verdi concert pair on January 25/26 (Triumphal March from Aida) and Edvard Grieg, his Morning Wood from Peer Gynt (the March 15/16 pair of concerts).
"There are four piecs of music that will be danced," Bernhardt explained. "We're going to do a tango, Roy Anderson's Blue Tango, and we found a great Bill Holcombe arrangement of String of Pearls, which happens to be one of my favorite big band charts. I think they're going to try to get some people up in the aisles to dance with them, which will be a lot of fun."
With Hollywood so close by, and Santa Barbara's rich film history a matter of record, film music is de riguerur each year in Berhardt's programming, and not just for reasons of public popularity. There's something special about the Santa Barbara orchestra, according to Bernhardt. "I found out very quickly in my time with the orchesra a couple of years ago, they have an incredibly quick and facile ability with film music, largely because so many of the players in the Santa Barbara Symphony are studio musicians. They are some of the greatest first call players in the LA region. I happen to love film music as well. I've put together an arrangement by Jeff Tyzik on the program which has six or seven of the most famous film titles anywhere including Lawrence of Arabia, thinking of the recently departed Peter O'Toole, Rocky, Pink Panther, some Bond: it's a great arrangement."
Some of Bernhardt's "selfish pleasures" will bump up the concert's pleasure meter even more. Gabriel's Oboe from the 1980s film The Mission, which starred Robert De Niro and had a mesmerizing score by Italian composer Ennio Morricone. "One of the most beautiful three-and-a-half minutes you can spend in a theatre," Bernhardt gushed. There will also be a brif arrangement from Pirates of the Caribbean, Stars and Stripes Forever, of course, selections from West Side Story, and Leroy Anderson's ubiquitous Bugler's Holiday, which ought to get quite a reading from the virtuoso trumpets of the orchestra.
"If there's ever a way to put John Williams' music on a program I will, the man's my hero," Bernhardt confessed. "The Olympic Games are coming up in Russia soon, so we're playing Williams' Fanfare and Theme from the 1984 Los Angeles games."
The former baseball and soccer jock has come a long way since that moment as an undergrad majoring in math when he discovered he had a natural expressive talent as a conductor. Yet when I asked Bernhardt what his most memorable New Year's Eve has been, he confessed to being a bit of an early to bed-type. "I'm a dweeb homebody. The last midnight I was out was for the release of a Harry Potter book. I was the oldest person by 35 years in line."