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Photograph by Season Staple
Guest musicians appearing at Santa Cruz Symphony performances this fall include violinist Sheryl Staples, who performs Beethoven's Violin Concerto Sept. 29-30.

Everything Old is New

For the Santa Cruz Symphony's 50th anniversary season, Music Director John Granger has selected pieces with the symphony's history in mind.

By Scott MacClelland

All the conductors of the Santa Cruz Symphony have been really great," declares Larry Granger, the orchestra's music director for the last 17 seasons. He's referring to the parade of talent that immediately preceded him—George Barati, Kenneth Klein, Mitchell Sardou Klein and JoAnn Falletta—and their legacies. Now celebrating the orchestra's 50th anniversary, Granger has remembered them, and those before them, in his programming. For example, the second program, in November, includes Haydn's Symphony no. 100 "Military," which salutes the very first program, conducted by Detlev Anders in 1958.

During his tenure in Santa Cruz, Granger and his orchestra have both matured to a level of professionalism that is widely recognized. "I'm proud of the fact that we got a four-minus rating from the California Arts Council, given our modest budget," he says. (Four is the highest rating any orchestra can get.) He goes on to explain that the Santa Cruz Symphony has always hovered at the low budgetary end of regional orchestras statewide because the community isn't a major industry hub, and attracts relatively few wealthy retirees, unlike Carmel or Pebble Beach.

Granger places particular value on "orchestra building," the behind-the-scenes discipline and chemistry necessary for developing an orchestra's optimal sound and successful teamwork. For that, he says, "a regional orchestra needs a conductor who will be there." Despite a shaky start in Santa Cruz, he expected improvement. "We all worked hard for that," he says. "I'm proud that we kept most of our musicians."

The 50th season opens with Paul Moravec's Spiritdance, which was commissioned for the symphony and premiered in 1989. Local audiences will be introduced to the young cellist David Requiro in the November program, thanks to a longtime relationship between the symphony and the Irving M. Klein String Competition. The January program opens with a world premiere, Gwyneth Walker's The Rainbow Sign: An American Overture; January also sees the return of the popular pianist (and onetime composer in residence) Stephen Prutsman. The March program will spotlight pianist Adam Neiman in the beloved Tchaikovsky concerto, and will include Dvorak's Symphony no. 7—"his best," says Granger, "and hardest."

The season finale, in May, presents a tour de force for the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus: Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music (with text from The Merchant of Venice), Stravinsky's great Symphony of Psalms and the sensation Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. A "Family Concert" at the beginning of March presents the world premiere of the America Symphony, a.k.a. ZunZun, by Gwynne Cropsey and Stephen Snyder.

Granger has served as music director longer than any of his predecessors (and is under contract through the 2011-12 season). When it comes to great orchestras, he says, "You can't think of one except for a longtime personal relationship with a conductor." But, he cautions, "making a conductor a celebrity is not particularly good for an orchestra.

"It's not about self-service, but rather accountability. Somebody has to be responsible." When a guest conductor takes his place, he says, "I want to be there to hear the orchestra, to make adjustments as needed." And he adds the observation that "critics don't know what worked or not in a rehearsal."

Concertgoers—and several of those critics—have praised Granger for his work with the Santa Cruz Symphony. Others, including parents and students, have shared his success in leading the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony and, in Monterey County, the Youth Music Monterey orchestras. This coming season, the SC Youth Symphony will be playing most of the same music performed in the first-ever concert by the Santa Cruz Symphony. "They're up to the challenge," Granger says with undisguised pride.

Granger is enthusiastic about the Symphony's new executive director, Mark Huber, who, he says, comes with "much more experience" in orchestra management than anyone who held the post previously. He also gives the board of directors high marks, not least for its strong representation from the Watsonville area. "I think we've been a healing force in the community between North and South County. We don't hear the word 'they' anymore."

To celebrate its 50th, the Santa Cruz Symphony is adding gala social events prior to its opening two performances, at the City Hall gardens in Santa Cruz and at the historic Bockius-Orr House in Watsonville. Additionally, Huber says, the symphony is launching a new endowment fund campaign and is looking to increase its musical services to the community.

SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY, with guest artist Sheryl Staples, kicks off its 50th season this Saturday, Sept. 29, at 8pm at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz, with a pre-concert gala at City Hall; and Sunday, Sept. 30, at 2pm at the Mello Center, 250 E. Beach St., Watsonville, with a pre-concert gala at the Bockius-Orr House. Tickets are $17-$59. (831.420.5260

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