For 48 years, Christopher Story has conducted Santa Barbara’s West Coast Symphony on the last day of Fiesta, treating those at the Courthouse Sunken Garden to a free concert of classical music.
Sunday’s program featured works from de Falla and Bizet, along with other Spanish-flavored music. On a sunny and humid day, it was one of the last events of Old Spanish Days, and one of the final times people could also see the Spirit and Junior Spirit of Fiesta perform.
Conductor Story is about to turn 89 next month, and this was the first concert he had to conduct – ruefully – sitting down. He is such a fixture of Fiesta, and of his July Fourth concerts, and much beloved through Santa Barbara, and there was no hint of him wanting to stop.
The program began with an arrangement of Bizet’s “Habanera” from “Carmen,” which, by coincidence, was being performed just over a block away at the Granada’s Sunday matinee.
From there the musicians ventured into Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Guitar in D Major,” featuring guest musician Taso Comanescu. Guest conductor and emcee Michael Shasberger pointed out that Vivaldi composed the piece for the lute, but also guitar, so despite its Baroque underpinnings, the work had some Spanish flavor.
From there Mr. Comanescu performed Lecuona’s “Malagueña” on guitar.
The audience then got challenged with a bit of modern-ish music, with Manuel de Falla’s Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin and Cello. Frank Basile, a lecturer at Loyola Marymount, was featured on harpsichord, which was specially wheeled in for the concert.
The piece was one of de Falla’s most difficult, and possibly put more than a few people off. But it was saved by the intermission where Spirit of Fiesta Talia Ortega Vestal and Junior Spirit Natalie Mowers danced one of their final dances, both clad in their flowing white dresses. Young dancers from West Coast Ballet also entertained.
The second half featured a new work from Andrew Levin called “The SoCal Suite,” which was filled with tango waltzes and Hollywood romanticism.
The concert closed with Maestro Story conducting Holst’s tuneful “St. Paul’s Suite.”
Mr. Levin was on hand to conduct his own work. He’s been friends with Tamsen Beseke, West Coast Symphony’s concertmaster, since high school. Because of the Spanish flavor of some of his work, Ms. Beseke asked him to write a piece.
This is not a common occurrence for the symphony, so that made Sunday’s concert special.
Currently, he conducts the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina, but flew out here to see family and enjoy the last day of Fiesta.
“It turned out that the concert was the same time I had planned to spend time with my whole family,” he said. Mr. Levin’s mother and father, his three sisters, and their kids were all in the audience.
“Composing is a small part of my life and one that I really enjoy,” he said. “Any composer who is asked to write, knowing that they will get a performance, will say ‘yes.'”