Santa Barbara Chamber Players Orchestra brings musicians together from Ventura to Santa Maria
In the early days of the pandemic, local musicians saw gig after gig canceled.
But they found ways to perform with each other, via Zoom, and later, in late 2020 and 2021, together in outdoor concerts at places such as Simon Knight’s garage in Santa Barbara. The garage door went up, and the garage became the stage; the driveway, an amphitheater for the audience.
As the musicians gathered, they talked with each other about what they would like to do next.
“We realized there was a need for an orchestra composed purely of local musicians,” said Sherylle Mills Englander, who along with Mr. Knight and Nancy Mathison, founded the Santa Barbara Chamber Players Orchestra. “There are very few ensembles that are staffed with purely local talent.
“We also hope to inspire the next generation of audiences,” Ms. Englander told the News-Press. “We like people to come and explore classical music.”
The Santa Barbara Chamber Players Orchestra, which was created by local musicians during the pandemic, will perform its first concert at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at the First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St.
Emmanuel Fratianni, a Santa Barbara resident, will conduct the orchestra as it plays Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7, and Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite.”
Ms. Englander is the new orchestra’s principal flutist. Mr. Knight is the principal bassoonist, and Ms. Mathison is the principal clarinetist.
The ensemble, which is two-thirds strings and one-third winds, consists of about 60 musicians.
The Santa Barbara Chamber Players’ birth goes back to musicians feeling the need to connect with each other during the early days of the pandemic. With gigs canceled, they had nowhere to perform.
“I was very depressed. I had no idea what to do with my flute,” Ms. Englander said. “Then I got a simple text from a colleague: ‘Want to play duets? Can we invite Simon and make it a trio?’”
At first, Ms. Englander and her friends strictly performed Zoom concerts,
“Then we expanded as health conditions improved,” she said. “The garage concert, the first live performance (with an in-person audience), was such an emotionally profound experience because we missed audiences so much.”
Organizers say the Santa Barbara Chamber Players is intended to fill the gap in the local community between professional and educational music events with affordable high quality concerts. All performances will feature local musicians.
“We came up with the idea of a chamber orchestra that would be performing with reasonably priced tickets — the cost of movie tickets,” said Ms. Englander, who has a degree in flute performance from the Eastman School of Music. Tickets cost $16, and the orchestra consists of local musicians, from Ventura to Santa Maria.
The orchestra includes people whose professions are music and those whose professions are in other areas.
For example, Ms. Englander’s day job is executive director of the California Nanosystem Institute at UCSB.
“There’s a surprising wealth of very profound music talent that are engineers and scientists and business executives,” Ms. Englander said. She added, “Because of the caliber of the musicians and the conductor, we’re able to put on ambitious works.”
Mr. Knight explained there’s another goal for the Santa Barbara Chamber Players.
“We wanted to involve high school players and allow them to play with experienced musicians in a chamber music orchestra,” he told the News-Press.
Ms. Englander noted the ensemble is also inviting college players who are serious musicians.
The orchestra is rehearsing at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito and performing its concerts, as previously mentioned, at the First United Methodist Church of Santa Barbara.
Ms. Englander is looking forward to the Jan. 28 concert, which will feature Dvorak’s “7th Symphony,” first performed in London in 1885; Mr. Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” which tells stories of enchanted gardens, a Chinese empress, and “Beauty and the Beast” and Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” inspired by America and featured in many movie and TV soundtracks.
“It’s a very fun piece,” Ms. Englander said about “Appalachian Spring.” “For me personally, Aaron Copland is a very unique composer. He just captures the feel of open spaces and the soul of America as well.
“He is a composer that you can’t help but attach the landscapes of the country.”
Ms. Englander said the orchestra is performing works that excites its members and that will introduce audiences to a diversity of music. For example, Dvorak is a well-known composer who’s undoubtedly best-known for his “New World” symphony. “We picked the seventh symphony, which is popular with musicians,” she said.
Added Mr. Knight, “We do want to play pieces that you’re less likely to hear.”
For example, Lao Schifrin will remain forever famous for composing the Grammy-winning theme to the original “Mission Impossible” series on CBS. Well, at the April concert at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara and at a yet-to-be-determined Santa Ynez Valley venue, the Santa Barbara Chamber Players will perform a different work by Mr. Schifrin, his Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra. Mr. Schifrin wrote the work for Gene Pokorny, principal tuba player for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who will play it with the Santa Barbara Chamber Players Orchestra in advance of his performances of the work this summer with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In the fall, the Santa Barbara Chamber Players Orchestra plans to perform a concert celebrating Italy, with music by modern film composers Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, along with Mendelssohn’s “Italian Symphony.”
The orchestra’s conductor, Maestro Fratianni has led orchestras around the world, such as the National Symphony Orchestra, the Mexican National Symphony, and the Beijing Opera and Performing Arts Orchestra.
“He’s done a lot of work in Hollywood and has conducted film scores, as well as video game music,” Mr. Knight said. “He has very broad experience.”