[News-Press} Ending on a light note
Santa Barbara Symphony's New Year's Eve concert buzzes Granada
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
As has been the tradition for 20 years now, the otherwise serious music-minded Santa Barbara Symphony let its collective hair down and treated its audience to a night of merry-making on New Year's Eve at The Granada. With the usual party mix of music from Hollywood, Broadway and classical morsels, the concert made for a briskly-paced and sharply-played yearly exit strategy, of the orchestral lite, pops-colored sort.
Serving as the ripe ringmaster for the festivities, while keeping it all musical, was returning noted pops conductor Bob Bernhardt. The symphony, and the particular tradition of this final night of the year, were in good hands with the good-natured maestro. He kept the music in crisp form while also supplying the right degree of joking patter between pieces (including a couple of pirate jokes to follow a medley of music from "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, and an anecdote with the punch line, referring to a pile of elephant dung, "the critics have spoken.")
Fittingly, the pleasant and rambling concert program opened with a medley of old chestnuts by George M. Cohan, including "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Give My Regards to Broadway" and a foreshadowing wink of "Auld Lang Syne." From another all-American corner, came a compact suite from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" offering fondly-recalled regards from Broadway.
On the classical snack food front, with pieces teasingly previewing what's in store in the "regular" Symphony series in the next several months, the program included Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood," from the "Peer Gynt Suite" and Verdi's "Triumphal March," from "Aida" (seen in memorable form on this stage last year, via the Opera Santa Barbara production). On the lighter but beloved note of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," auction-winning Dr. Bob Weinman returned as guest conductor-for-a-day. Mr. Bernhardt's advice to the passionate amateur at the podium: "Wave your hands until the music stops and then turn around and bow."
This year, the entertainment agenda also occasionally dipped into the realm of dance, courtesy of six dancers from the State Street Ballet, which has collaborated with the symphony in recent years, on Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Stravinsky's "Firebird." On this night, the dance factor entered into the program on various rhythmic themes of Leroy Anderson's "Blue Tango," the signature business of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "Emperor Waltz" and when working the aisles on the swing time of Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls."
Another jazz moment snuck into the works on a medley of movie themes ending the concert's first half, which included a short solo by tenor saxist Sal Lozano on "Pink Panther" amidst a musical pastiche that touched on "Laura," "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Way We Were," and the kitschy triumphal oompah of "Rocky."
In another soloist highlight of the concert — and one of the purely musical high points of the show — the symphony's own oboist Lara Wickes played the melodic protagonist on the beautiful "Gabriel's Oboe" piece from film composer Ennio Morricone's great score from the film "The Mission." That brief moment of reflective relief was followed, summarily, by another Leroy Anderson confection, "Bugler's Holiday," with three trumpeters from the ranks stepping forward into the spotlight, stage front.
Later in the evening, Mr. Bernhardt turned symphonic attentions to famed film composer John Williams — "to support a struggling composer," he joked — and waxing fanfare-ish to the theme of Mr. Williams' fanfare and theme for the 1984 Olympics. An encore of Rossini's "William Tell Overture" arrived with a giddy gimmick attached, as the orchestra suddenly silenced their instruments and sang its parts. They know better than to try this trick on home turf, in the regular symphony season. Such is the charm of this fizzy party-timing orchestral night out.
Capping off with a customary round of "Auld Lang Syne," with all musicians and dancers onstage, this New Years Eve invited its audience to go easily and tunefully into the good night of the year's closure. The critic has spoken.