THE FIFTH ELEMENT: Sir George Martin premieres new work at a special Beatles evening at The Granada

Above, George Martin speaks before Friday evening's "Love, Love, Love" rehearsal at the Granada Theatre. Below, Sir Martin talks to guests at the event. MATT WIER / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
Above, George Martin speaks before Friday evening’s “Love, Love, Love” rehearsal at the Granada Theatre. Below, Sir Martin talks to guests at the event.

Sir George Martin, the “Fifth Beatle,” the producer of nearly all of the Beatles songs, as well as a composer and musician in his own right, made a rare visit to Santa Barbara on Friday.

Mr. Martin was at The Granada to promote the world premiere of his own “The Mission Chorales” with the Santa Barbara Choral Society and Orchestra. He conducts the orchestra on both Saturday and Sunday.

The choral work makes up one part of an exciting Beatles-themed evening. Preceded by the State Street Ballet performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the first act, “The Mission Chorales” is followed by “Love Love Love,” William Soleau’s ballet — set to a medley of Beatles music — that tells a love story set in the ’60s . The selection of such hits as “Help!,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and “Something” have been arranged for the Santa Barbara Chorale Society by Stephen Dombeck.

Mr. Martin, who is now 84, spoke at a special VIP preview and rehearsal.

The project came to fruition (in Santa Barbara) through Mr. Martin’s longtime friendship with Brooks Firestone, the former North County supervisor. The two were neighbors in London during the ’60s, and they kept in touch when Mr. Firestone returned to California. “The Mission Chorales” was part of a score he wrote for Roland Joffe’s 1986 film “The Mission.” The score at that time was only a 30 second fragment, Sir George explained. He was replaced by Ennio Morricone for the soundtrack duties after a producer shake-up, and the score remained unfinished until Mr. Firestone expressed interest. The former 3rd District Supervisor has long been a part of Choral Society and asked Sir George permission to perform the work. Mr. Martin finished the work last year while recuperating from an operation.

“We lived a few doors apart and went to the same church,” explained Mr. Firestone, who introduced Sir George to the crowd. “We started to be friends, and we’ve kept that up over the years.” The year was 1968, placing the two right in the middle of Swinging London.

“We knew something of the Beatles, but it wasn’t a big thing for us,” Mr. Firestone continued. “We did not understand the extent of his participation. We knew him as a pal and not a producer.”

This has been a busy 10 years for Sir George, who could have rested on his Beatles laurels. But he’s been instrumental in reworking and remixing the Beatles catalog with his son Giles for Cirque de Soleil’s “Love” show in Las Vegas. He also oversaw a six-CD retrospective of his production work outside the Beatles in 2001 called “Produced by George Martin” and released an autobiography in 2002.

In a brief 10 minute talk, Mr. Martin spoke of his years between leaving the navy and landing the Beatles, where every life decision — taking advantage of a government grant for ex-servicemen, applying for a job at a little known studio called Abbey Road, a jealousy of pop star Cliff Richard that made him seek out his own beat group to produce — was one more step to the world-changing encounter with the Beatles.

“The music wasn’t very good,” he said of first listening to manager Brian Epstein’s demo tape of the group. But he met the four and “they charmed the pants off me. And I thought, if they can charm the pants off me, and they can project themselves on stage, they can charm the pants off of everybody, too.”

Mr. Martin ended comparing the Beatles work to other great composers of the 20th century, like George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern. “But they didn’t perform. They were writers. The Beatles did all that, but they were also great stars, and I was privileged to work with them, and I’m privileged to still be friends with what’s left of them.”

“Love Love Love” plays tonight at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $28 – $53. For more information, call 899-2222.

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