Tag Archives: classical music

Relighting the Marquee

You are sitting up front in the ornate Granada Theatre. It has been too long since you have had an experience like this. 

The motionless curtain tantalizes. Impatient for its revelations, you look around and up to the balcony: so many people (1,500) sharing the same exhilaration. You feel a richness coming back to life. Then–the curtain rises. 

For Hayley Firestone Jessup, the Granada’s vice president of advancement, that moment, when it comes, will be “relief, huge emotional relief.” 

State Street Ballet & SB Choral Society – “Carmina Burana” Granada Theatre 5/30/08

“It will be the lights, the sounds, the visuals, the excitement,” Firestone Jessup says breathlessly. “The beauty of live artists again. The color of the stage. The sound of the musicians.”

For Firestone Jessup and her colleagues, who have seen the theater’s staff drop from 35 to 10, the long months of the pandemic have made it all too apparent “that without music, theatre, and dance one’s life becomes incredibly flat.”

The theater itself is a beacon of culture for not only Santa Barbara, but the entire state and country. Following a top-to-bottom seismic upgrade and architectural restoration in 2008, the Granada was reborn as the downtown home for eight resident companies including the Opera Santa Barbara, The Santa Barbara Symphony, and State Street Ballet. 

To accommodate the varied performances showcased in the now 96-year-old venue required intensive alterations to what had most recently been a multiplex cinema. This included enlarging the stage for the opera, making the floor flexible for dancers, enhancing acoustics for the symphony, and widening the proscenium arch for Broadway tours. 

The result is a venue where Yo-Yo Ma, the Peking Acrobats, and the Beach Boys all find the amenities and high quality that bring them back time and time again.

Beyond the performances within the theater, the Granada provides Santa Barbara and the region with so much more. Tourists take selfies by the entrance of Santa Barbara’s highest “skyscraper” – the city’s icon of the performing arts and the cultural vibrancy to be found on this particular stretch of California’s coast.

“The Granada adds a dimension to the community life of Santa Barbara just by its presence, just by the lights on the marquee,” Firestone Jessup says. “While we have taken an intermission, we will be back!”

The Community’s Theatre

Not only is the Lobero the longest running theatre in California (founded in 1873), but it is relentless, with over 200 nights of performances a year serving more than 70,000 people. 

For Executive Director David Asbell, whose 23-year tenure seems short given the Lobero’s history, the job is all about serving Santa Barbara and its vibrant performing arts scene. 

AHA! Santa Barbara performs on the Lobero Stage

“The staff and board, we look at our role really as stewards of this great building and tradition,” Asbell says. “The most important thing we can be doing, job number one, is all about our community. The collaborations we are most proud of are with local arts organizations and local artists.” 

The Lobero has four pillars of performance: classical music, jazz, dance, and theatre. While the theatre has been – and is regularly – graced by world-class performers, the Lobero’s staff is heavily focused on giving local artists and youth a platform to thrive and grow into their craft. 

“We are not going to make the music, but we will make sure that a local musician or dance company has the best opportunity at succeeding,” Asbell says. “The most important goal for us is to complement and support the local arts scene.” 

To accomplish this, the theatre heavily subsidizes or gifts the space whether for the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, a nonprofit youth service provider like AHA!, or the Santa Barbara Vocal Jazz Foundation’s “Journey Through Jazz” residency. Journey Through Jazz is a seven-week in-classroom program during which local grade schoolers learn about jazz music and history, which culminates in a performance at the Lobero. 

Jim Dougherty is the Lobero’s Director of Planned Giving. For him, the Journey Through Jazz performances have their own “special magic” because of the audience that comes through the doors. 

“These are not your typical theatre-goers,” Dougherty says. “You have whole families. The best is watching a sibling watch their siblings up on stage. I just love to see the families’ reactions. It’s absolutely sweet.” 

That is what he misses the most about the theatre being closed for such a long stretch of 2020. 

For Asbell, Dougherty, and the entire Lobero team, it is moments like those that the theatre was built for: community. 

A Class of Musicians Like None Before

In 2017, the Music Academy of the West and its uniquely capable leader, Scott Reed, were the subject of a glowing Los Angeles Times article, which coincided with the venerable institution’s 70th anniversary. 

Reed, who got his start at the Academy as an intern in the development department while at UCSB in the late 1990s, was then – as he is now – entirely dedicated to ensuring that young, classically-trained musicians have the best opportunities to succeed in an ever-changing industry. Each year fellows ages 18-34 are selected by merit-based audition from more than 2,000 applicants worldwide to participate in a Summer School and Festival. These extraordinary musicians train with an esteemed roster of faculty and guest artists from the finest music schools, orchestras, and opera companies. More than 150 public concerts and masterclasses are packed into the eight-week performance-based training program. The summer activities are also supplemented with year-round training through the Innovation Institute Alumni Enterprise Award program and the Keston Music Academy Exchange (MAX) through a partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Scott Reed, Sue Birch, Gustavo Dudamel, and Ed Birch at a rehearsal for the 2018 Academy Festival Orchestra Annual Community Concert (photo credit: Phil Channing)

“Being willing to change and be adaptable enough to address our young fellows’ 21st-century needs,” Reed told the Times, “is a great challenge, and one we have to absolutely insist and commit to addressing.” 

Prescient words given the dramatic changes the Music Academy’s coveted festival faced three years later as stay-at-home orders grounded all travel and public events.

Reed and the Academy’s reaction was swift, and indicative of their commitment to both artists and the classical music industry. Instead of cancelling the full-scholarship program, it was offered to 134 promising talents hailing from across the globe, just as its free choral program for young students in Santa Barbara continued remotely.

During the opening convocation Reed said: “The unfortunate challenge of this difficult time has opened a new door for classically trained musicians. This evolution for your generation is a responsibility none of you expected, but all of you will have to embrace.”

The Music Academy Remote Learning Institute was designed and implemented within a few weeks, and coupled intensive training with seminars focused on how young artists can ensure successful careers. The Compeer Program, which matches fellows with Academy supporters – often fostering lifelong friendships – was deployed over video conference. While novel, it proved successful, creating opportunities for intimate connection. 

For the first time in the program’s 73-year-history, every fellow was given the opportunity to re-enroll in the 2021 Summer School and Festival.

“The fellows and our community are equally enthusiastic about the prospect of experiencing live music again here in Santa Barbara next summer,” said Reed. “We will help bring performance-based training back to life for young musicians and the audiences that champion them. In times of crisis, music always helps us connect and heal.”