The Santa Cruz Symphony
Daniel Stewart and the Santa Cruz Symphony will return to the stage Oct. 23 at the Civic Auditorium.
(Via Santa Cruz Symphony)
The Here & Now

‘As cathartic as possible’: Santa Cruz Symphony set to return with robust new season

Starting out with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and getting ever larger in scale, Daniel Stewart and the Santa Cruz Symphony are planning a splashy return after the longest layoff in the organization’s history.

In late October, the Santa Cruz Symphony will take the stage at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and make music for a live audience for the first time in more than a year and a half.

Conductor and music director Daniel Stewart figured that the first piece that the orchestra will perform after such a long period of silence, unprecedented in the Symphony’s 64-year history, will be momentous. After some reflection, Stewart landed at one answer.

“You know, I’d love to start with the happiest, most joyful we’re-back moment,” said Stewart. “But it was very important to me that the Barber ‘Adagio’ be the first sounds that come from the stage to really honor the traumatic side of what so many people have been going through publicly or inwardly for the last two years.”

That is, of course, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” one of the most well-known 20th-century pieces of music in the world, a monumental arrangement that has been performed at countless memorials and funerals largely because of its power to evoke pathos and mourning on a grand scale.

In Santa Cruz, Barber’s “Adagio” is the opening piece for the opening concert in the Symphony’s ambitious new season, to strike up Oct. 23 at the Civic (and followed the next day with a performance at the Mello Center in Watsonville).

The season’s opening concert is to be titled “Remembrance & Rejuvenation,” and, according to Stewart’s grand plan, it has a lot to accomplish.

“It’s going to be a tremendously emotional moment for all of us to connect again with the community,” he said. “We’re going to be sharing a program that is designed to be as cathartic as possible to what’s going on, in terms of how we can share these moments of mourning and celebration.”

Though it opens with the majestic and mournful “Adagio,” the opening concert will move into other moods and tones in an effort to capture the potent emotional cocktail of what it means for the orchestra to be back with its audience again after such a long period of absence.

Also on the program, for instance, will be Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings,” which offers up a tone of redemption and renewal, as well as a work by contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery called “Starburst,” which, said Stewart, represents “our bright, buoyant future when we are at our best.”

It’s also a clear signal that the Symphony is planning to come back in a big way. The new season, announced last week, will feature six major concerts, plus the Symphony’s annual Family Concert and a recital event at Cabrillo College.

Highlights of the new season include a restaging of Carl Orff’s choral masterpiece “Carmina Burana,” which the Symphony most recently performed in 2015. Like that previous performance, the newly scheduled one (May 21-22, 2022) will feature Cheryl Anderson’s Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus.

Next June, the Symphony will close its season with a collaboration with world-renowned wildlife photographer Frans Lanting called “Life: A Journey Through Time,” featuring the music of Philip Glass.

Before that, however, Stewart is focusing on diversity of repertoire. January’s “Rites of Passage” features a performance of “Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked,” by Carmel Valley-based African American composer John Wineglass. The piece is based on the African slave trade and features a libretto written by historian Edda L. Fields-Black. The narration of the piece will come courtesy of Santa Cruz gospel/blues singer Tammi Brown.

The Santa Cruz Symphony with Cheryl Anderson's Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus
The Santa Cruz Symphony with Cheryl Anderson’s Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus at 2015’s performance of “Carmina Burana,” which will be performed again as part of the Symphony’s 2021-22 season.
(Via Santa Cruz Symphony)

Similarly, in February, the Symphony will fuse the spirit of Beethoven with the power of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” famously read by the author at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January. That concert will feature a variety of cultural expressions, from a piece by South Korean composer Unsuk Chin to a dance piece from Mexican composer Jose Pablo Mancayo titled “Huapango” and performed on stage by Watsonville’s celebrated dance troupe Esperanza Del Valle.

In April, the Symphony will also feature a world premiere by Cabrillo College’s Josef Sekon titled “The Aptos Sound Project.”

Much of the programming for the 2021-22 season is holdovers for what was planned for the season that didn’t happen last year. Stewart said that the vast majority of the 60-plus musicians in the orchestra are returning for the new season. He also said that the season was designed with continuing adaptation to COVID-19 in mind.

“Our cautious and graded approach, funny enough, I think turns out to be spot on,” he said. “We start with the all-string program in the fall and then the (full) orchestra concerts start in January and get progressively larger in scale from there. If you looked at where we were two months ago, you would have thought we were being overly cautious. But it looks like we’ll be in the right place to take it step by step, gradually getting back to normal.”

For more information on the Santa Cruz Symphony’s upcoming season, go to its website.