For six decades, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music has been delving into the issues of our time. America’s longest running festival of new orchestral music, the Festival brings together music lovers, musicians, and composers for an unparalleled musical experience. From July 24 through August 7, the Festival will celebrate its 60th Anniversary with a return to live, in-person performances and a program of timely, topical, and thought-provoking new works.

Cabrillo Festival Music Director and Conductor, Cristian Macelaru
Cabrillo Festival Music Director and Conductor, Cristian Macelaru Credit: Crystal Birns

Led by Grammy Award-winning Music Director and Conductor Cristian Măcelaru, this year’s Cabrillo Festival offers a bold program of orchestral works, reflecting on the divisions in our nation and environmental threats, while remaining infused with hope for change, transformation, and peace.

In the last few years, the Western United States has been plagued by catastrophic environmental events. Two works to be premiered at the 2022 Cabrillo Festival reflect on wildfires, drought, and climate change: Scott Ordway’s The End of Rain, (with the groundbreaking vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth) and Gabriela Lena Frank’s Contested Eden. Santa Cruz-born Ordway collected stories from more than 200 members of impacted communities who shared their individual experiences of wildfire and drought when composing The End of Rain.

These stories and words have been translated into a musical form “in an attempt to better understand how we feel about our evolving relationship to place, home, and security in a changing world.” The result is a 40-minute multimedia work accompanied by documentary photography by Ordway.

Water Truck, Oroville 2021
Water Truck, Oroville 2021 Credit: Scott Ordway

In 2021, Berkeley-born Frank was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival to write a work that reflects on wildfires and climate crisis. Frank’s Contested Eden proved a very personal and compelling journey, as she resides in Booneville, a northern California agricultural community severely threatened by drought and wildfire. The work is composed of an original secular psalm, Canto para California, that forms an intimate lyrical first movement performed by string quartet, followed by a second movement centered around the concept of in extremis, Latin for “in extreme circumstances,” performed by the full orchestra.

Lara Downes, piano soloist (L) and Valerie Joi, narrator (R)
Lara Downes, piano soloist (L) and Valerie Joi, narrator (R) Credit: Lara Downes & Devi Pride

Two works reflect on voting rights and celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment: Stacy Garrop’s The Battle for the Ballot (featuring the brilliant Valerie Joi narrating), and Paolo Prestini’s Let Me See the Sun (with the renowned Lara Downes on piano). The Battle of Ballot was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival in 2020 to commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage in America.

The piece features spoken narration incorporating the words of seven prominent Black and white suffragists and receives its West Coast premiere this season, after a spectacular virtual realization during the 2020 Season. Prestini’s piano concerto Let Me See the Sun is about the human impulse to remain hopeful, and what it means to struggle towards clarity and light. The work is structured as a dialogue between piano and orchestra, at times contentious and at times unified.

Indeed for 60 years the Cabrillo Festival has been presenting works that are relevant, urgent, necessary. The culture and ethos of the Festival – of discovery, creativity, and inclusivity are illustrated in this year’s anniversary season. The Festival also includes composer Iván Enrique Rodríguez’s A Metaphor for Power, a work that reflects upon our ideals of equality in America. Jessie Montgomery’s Soul Force is a powerful work that gives voice to the oppressed. Jake Heggie’s INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope, written in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.

Conductor Cristian Macelaru and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra
Conductor Cristian Macelaru and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra Credit: RR Jones

Also on the program are Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby Suite; American composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s Water Sings Fire; Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts’ Second Oboe Concerto: Moonlight, written for oboist Katherine Needleman; Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Hiraeth, which features an original film by Mark DeChiazza; and Pulitzer-prize winning composer Christopher Rouse’s Symphony No. 6. The vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth perform in a special program.

Join the Cabrillo Festival this July 24-August 7 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium for an incredible season featuring works by twelve American composers, a stunning roster of soloists, three world premiere commissions, and seven West Coast premieres. Open Rehearsals are free and open to the public, and will include a live streaming option Visit for schedule and more program information. Music of our time, for our time.

Please note: Cabrillo Festival will adhere to COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines for all events. Masks will be required indoors. Proof of vaccination and booster along with a photo ID will be required for entry. Policy subject to change.