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From Russia, With Love : Pianist Natasha Peremski performs this weekend at the Santa Cruz Symphony's opening concert.

A Season of Firsts

The Santa Cruz County Symphony enters year 51 in style.

By Scott MacClelland

Presenters who spread their seasons into two calendar years get to celebrate their important anniversaries twice. But in launching its 51st year, the Santa Cruz County Symphony is already looking to its next half century. This weekend sees Larry Granger and his orchestra celebrating the 50th anniversary of West Side Story with its concert suite and the 90th of its composer, Leonard Bernstein, in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. The program also contains Stravinsky's The Firebird and Rachmaninoff's brilliant Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini starring the Russian-born, Bay Area-based piano phenom Natasha Peremski, now just 21, as she continues to pile up accolades in the United States and Europe. Granger, who likes to program by theme, promises several firsts, like Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto--to celebrate that composer's 200th birthday--and Beethoven's First Symphony. By the numbers, expect a first performance here of Nielsen's Second Symphony, Four Temperaments, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto and Tchaikovksy's Fifth Symphony. In memoriam is Haydn's great oratorio The Creation to acknowledge the 200th anniversary of the composer's death (and, incidentally, the 54th anniversary of his head rejoining his other mortal remains 145 years after they were separated).

This year's Klein International String Competition winner, violinist Jing Wang, joins the symphony for its second program in Brahms' Violin Concerto in D. Keith Kreitman in the Oakland Tribune raved about the 22-year-old Wang's performance of the Brahms concerto during the June competition in San Francisco, adding, "This guy has the heart, soul and physical enthusiasm to put into his performances to make them incredibly moving. This was one of the rare times I really didn't want the concerto to end."

For Granger's third program, Lebanon-born Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino appears in the Mendelssohn concerto on a program that includes the Tchaikovsky Fifth. (Del Pino performed with the Monterey Symphony last season.) The fourth program sees the eagerly anticipated homecoming of Chetan Tierra as soloist in Prokofiev's Third Concerto, along with the Nielsen symphony and Mexican composer Josť Moncayo's Huapango.

The first and third programs, as well as the fifth--Haydn's Creation, with soloists and the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus--will be performed both at the Santa Cruz Civic and the Mello Center at Watsonville High School, likewise the annual Family Concert, "The Colors of Music," in which members of the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony will join the orchestra. Pre-concert talks are given at 7pm at the Santa Cruz Civic and 1pm at the Mello Center.

THE SANTA CRUZ COUNTY SYMPHONY With Natasha Peremski Saturday, Sept. 27, at 8pm at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz, and Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2pm at the Mello Center, 215 E. Beach St., Watsonville. Tickets are $20-65;

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