Santa Barbara Symphony plays live for the first time in six months
COVID-19 has precluded the Santa Barbara Symphony from holding concerts this summer, but the group is making the best of the situation.
The symphony hasn’t just been streaming content online, but has returned to the stage for live shows.
This past weekend, the string quartet consisting of cellist Jonathan Flaksman, violist Diane Gilbert, and violinists Steve Zander and Yue Deng played in front of a limited audience at the Maravilla senior living community, an occasion that symphony interim CEO Kathryn Martin called “a beautiful day.”
The quartet performed the music of Giacomo Puccini, George Gershwin, and the Beatles songs “Yesterday,” “Till There Was You,” and “When I’m 64.”
The small show for the retirement home’s residents observed social distancing and each musician had their temperature checked prior to entering. According to Ms. Martin, it was the first live performance by Santa Barbara Symphony musicians before an in-person audience in about six months. Ms. Martin recalled seeing tears in the eyes of Maravilla residents, many who frequently attended symphony events prior to the pandemic, because it had just been so long since they heard live music.
While Sunday’s performance “was not 1,500 people in the Granada,” the reaction it produced in the audience, and the four musicians for that matter, brought the mission of the symphony into sharper focus. In the past, the symphony’s aim was closely tied to performing symphonic music in concert halls, but Ms. Martin said COVID-19 restrictions have given the organization an opportunity to “reframe” itself.
She said the mission at the heart of this reframing is to “connect with the community, to inspire, to educate, and to bring joy.”
Always on the lookout for new ways of fulfilling this mission, the symphony accepted Maravilla’s invitation to perform a small concert for a small crowd of controlled size.
“Part of our mission is to connect the music and the symphony musicians to the community. Right now during COVID, we’re finding new ways of doing that, and what an opportunity,” Ms. Martin said.
One way the symphony has brought music to the Santa Barbara community during the pandemic is its “Sundays with the Symphony” series, 30-minute streamed video episodes featuring archival live performances by symphony musicians and interviews with them. The next installment in the series will broadcast on the Santa Barbara Symphony website at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 23 and feature young musicians from the symphony’s Music Education Center.
A continuum of musical education programs for elementary, middle, and high school students, the Music Education Center includes three ensembles for different musical skill levels. These are: the Camerata Ensemble for beginner student musicians; the Philharmonia Orchestra for the intermediate; and the advanced-level Youth Symphony.
According to a press release, the Aug. 23 broadcast will feature performances by the three ensembles, a rendition of “Mozart Duo for Violin and Viola” played by professional symphony members violinist Stephanie Pak and violist Andrew Kwon, and Music Education Center alumni violist Emily Gilman, pianist Adam Gilman, and trombonist Connor Rowe. It will also include an exclusive clip from “Hearing is Believing,” a documentary by Lorenzo DeStefano about a collaboration between the Youth Symphony and local composer Rachel Flowers.
Looking back to when everything the symphony had planned was getting canceled due to COVID-19, Ms. Martin said the organization’s educational programs sprung straight into making the transition to remote instruction. Inspired by how its Music Education Center quickly adapted to the situation, the symphony decided to dedicate a “Sundays with the Symphony” episode to showing the music it has produced.
Given the current circumstances, Ms. Martin believes the role of music education in the Santa Barbara Symphony will only grow more significantly than it already is.
“Music education has always been the DNA of the symphony, but now more than ever it’s our future… So we wanted to share some of that,” she said.