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Photograph by Van Zantes Photography
Good Conduct: John Larry Granger has led the Santa Cruz County Symphony for a record 16 years.

Granger's Golden Era

As the Santa Cruz County Symphony turns 50, stability reigns onstage and off

By Scott MacClelland

One can safely assume that, in a symphony orchestra that has lasted 50 seasons, no one playing today was there at the start. Certain traditions are nevertheless instilled.


This writer's memory encompasses conductors who were also music directors and their interim counterparts dating back to the early 1970s. At that time George Barati was in charge of the Santa Cruz Symphony after a major career as a cellist and composer (trained at the Franz Liszt Academy in his native Hungary) and longtime conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Barati left the most indelible impression on the orchestra's musicians for the following 10 years owing to his depth of authority, force of personality and high standards.

After Barati's departure, a one-year parade of candidates for his replacement ended in 1980 with the selection of Kenneth Klein, who had led the Guadalajara Symphony for more than a decade. Klein served as music director here for three seasons.

Edward Houghton, from the music faculty at UC–Santa Cruz, oversaw the next season of conductor candidates, paving the way for new music director Mitchell Sardou Klein, who had lately served the Kansas City Philharmonic as associate conductor. Klein led the Santa Cruz orchestra for three seasons, culminating in a memorable production of the Verdi Requiem.

JoAnn Falletta was engaged as interim music director for the 1989–1991 season, and as music adviser during the following audition season that settled on John Larry Granger, who, after 16 seasons, now holds the record for the longest tenure of any music director in the orchestra's history. In many ways, Granger is the ideal music director for a regional orchestra. He knows his scores and prepares his orchestra with exceptional personal discipline and artistic vision.

"I am most fortunate to be enjoying a tenure that spans one-third of the life of this wonderful orchestra," he says. "We have shared laughter and tears, artistic unities and differences and some remarkable performances." For himself and his musicians he expresses heartfelt gratitude for how appreciated the audiences make them feel. "Sometimes people remind me of how much stronger the orchestra is today than a decade or so ago," he says. "All of us have grown. The Symphony League has become wildly successful, our board of directors is the strongest it has ever been, and the musicians with their devotion to music continue to reach higher levels of ensemble and expression in their performances." Almost as an afterthought, he adds: "I can't begin to count the many works that I have added to my personal repertoire in our years together."

Moreover, Granger is actively committed to music education, conducting the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony and, in Monterey County, the Youth and Honors Orchestras of Youth Music Monterey.

The president of the board of directors has been as important to the organization's fiscal health as the music director's leadership has been to its artistic well-being. Like virtually every nonprofit performing arts entity, the Santa Cruz County Symphony has had its ups and downs.

Rowland Rebele, who served as board president for six years during the mid-1980s and continues to be a benefactor, says he's "proud and honored to be part of keeping our symphony alive financially and in other ways over the past 27 years." Rebele has been a model board member and leader, assisting in matters of governance, funding, audience development, board recruitment and performance quality. (He credits fellow Aptosians Barbara and Jack Lingafelter for their six-figure gift that helped rebuild Watsonville High School's auditorium after the '89 Loma Prieta earthquake, leading to the popular Mello Center series.)

Rebele is also the symphony's most outspoken cheerleader. "There is nothing like the live symphonic experience," he declares. "Nothing compares." He recalls all too well the important few people who stepped up to the plate in the late 1980s and early '90s when the symphony was struggling. Rebele and fellow community leaders and philanthropists kept things alive then, but he sounds a warning: "Now our symphony has morphed into a strong board with strong leadership, and the quality of music at the concerts has improved apace. But I would only caution that those of us who care must always remain vigilant."

Tickets go on sale Sept. 1 for the 50th season of the SANTA CRUZ COUNTY SYMPHONY, which features performances of Wagner, Mussorgsky, Ravel, Copland and Vaughan Williams. Tickets are $17–59. Call 831.420.5260 or visit

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