Cabrillo Festival announces new season, to memorialize the traumas of 2020

Conductor Cristian Măcelaru leads the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra
This summer, conductor Cristian Măcelaru will lead the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra in live, in-person performances for the first time since 2019.
(Via r.r. jones)

After two years struggling to be remake itself into a temporary media production company, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music returns triumphantly to live performances at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in late July and early August.

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By the time conductor Cristian Măcelaru takes the stage with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in late July, it will have been three years since it happened the previous time.


The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, one of the country’s most high-profile festivals of new symphonic music, had been transforming downtown Santa Cruz into a playland of ambitious composers and brilliant musicians every summer for generations. But that streak stopped after the 2019 season. The COVID-19 pandemic put the live, in-person performances of the festival on the shelf in both 2020 and 2021.

For the summer of ’22, however, all systems are go for a return to the live festival. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, at least for the sake of numerology. This summer marks the Cabrillo Festival’s 60th anniversary.

The festival recently announced the programming for its “Welcome Back to Live” season. And if much of this season is an effort for the festival to pick up where it left off, at least one concert will mark the moment in history by memorializing what has been a traumatic period for Santa Cruz County.

On Friday, July 29, the festival will present the concert “The End of Rain,” featuring the composition of the same name by Santa Cruz-born composer Scott Ordway. “The End of Rain” is a multimedia show with images and music that directly confronts a trauma that has little to do with a virus: fire and drought. It draws from the experience of more than 200 people affected by the ruinous 2020 wildfires, and the ongoing drought.

Măcelaru, who took over the reins of the Cabrillo Festival in 2016 from Marin Alsop, said the Ordway composition is a chance to memorialize a critical moment in local history, which is often overlooked in the understandable impulse to return to normal.

Cristian Măcelaru leads the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra
(Via r.r. jones)

“I still have not been able to have a memorial service for my father who died in April 2020 because of COVID,” said Măcelaru. “I would love to have a moment that is 100% dedicated not to reliving the trauma but [remembering who we lost] to be able to send it out into the universe. And that’s what [‘The End of Rain’] is. The healing power of music and art was only that much more evident when it wasn’t there during the pandemic. So memorializing is crucial. And — I know this from my own life as well — it’s spiritually necessary.”

The festival will return with many of its familiar features, from the “Meet the Composers” panel discussion to the open rehearsals (which will also be livestreamed). The eight-voice vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, who performed at the Cabrillo Festival at its most recent live performances in 2019, returns for the Ordway piece as well as a headlining concert.

During the pandemic, Măcelaru and the Cabrillo Festival staff created an ambitious schedule of virtual events for the ’20 and ’21 seasons. When the pandemic shutdown hit in March 2020, that year’s season had already been announced. Măcelaru said the Cabrillo Festival was one of the first summer music festivals in the country to make the decision to go virtual.

“We became a media production company almost overnight,” he said. “None of us were prepared for that. There are people who spend a lifetime studying and working for that kind of thing. I was so foolish, in the spring of 2020, I thought, this will be great. We’re going to have a couple of hours of video stuff every day to replicate open rehearsals and [other things]. And then, it turned into hours every day to produce something online. It was insanity. But we made 28 hours’ worth of footage. People can work for a year or two years to produce something like that. So we learned our lesson.”

This year’s festival will attempt to weave in live webcasts and streaming into the in-person performances, something that, Măcelaru said, never would have happened without the pandemic. But, he added, there’s a feeling of immense relief for artists and audiences alike that they are again doing what they’re supposed to be doing, performing in-person to live audiences.

“The Cabrillo Festival really thrives on the concept that the audience is part of the creative process. It’s not just the spectator of the concerts, but part of the creative process as we develop,” Măcelaru said. “All of our rehearsals are open to the public. Composers are available for questions. Musicians are available for questions. I interact with the audience all the time. So we feel like we are literally in the middle of the community. And for me, that was the biggest loss of the past two years. I didn’t feel like I was able to really be part of the community. I missed it desperately.”

The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music takes place July 24-Aug. 7 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. For ticket information and a full schedule of events, go here.

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