By Michael YEGHIAYAN
The California Philharmonic brought the music of Beethoven and the Beatles to the Arcadia Arboretum opening their 2011 summer series. The Cal Phil was joined after the intermission by Beatles cover band The Fab Four, setting aside Beethoven to embrace the likes of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper.
The night also brought significant news regarding the future of the summer series with the announcement that the 2012 season would be held across the street at the Santa Anita Racetrack.
This night, however, the orchestra made the most of the opening night in the Arboretum’s final season. Maestro Victor Vener’s charm and charisma became immediately apparent as he playfully bantered with the audience. He brought fresh life to a genre of music so often made intimidating and exclusive to classical music newcomers.
The crowd itself was casual, something more similar to a pre-20th Century performance. Children were playing in the grass, retired couples enjoyed Charles Shaw out of plastic stemware and people could be spotted taking pictures of their specialty hot dogs to post on Facebook, a welcome break from the typical black tie affair that would be usually associated with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The music itself was played to the standard expected of such a world-class orchestra. Vener noted the downsized string section, which brought new life to a classic piece that has suffered from overplay.
After the intermission, the strings and brass of the orchestra were joined by the guitars and drums of The Fab Four. The two didn’t meld especially well in the beginning. At times, it seemed as if the Cal Phil was playing background music to a Fab Four show rather than a proper collaboration. A few songs in, however, the two found a rhythm and brought depth to the familiar sounds of the Beatles.
The highlight of the night came around the middle of the second set. Maestro Vener introduced David Washburn on the piccolo trumpet for Penny Lane, bringing the audience to its feet with his phenomenal play. The rest of the concert managed to incorporate the two styles impeccably, concluding with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Imagine” and “Live and Let Die.” When they weren’t actively playing, the Cal Phil showed great showmanship with the strings lifting their bows to the music and showing their admiration for the lads from Liverpool.
Even amidst the music, the big news of the night continued to be the big switch in venue planned for next year.
“Santa Anita Park is thrilled to announce its new association with Cal Phil and all of the exciting things that we have in store for concert-goers beginning next summer,” said George Haines, president of Santa Anita Park. “We take great pride in providing the Southland with the finest entertainment, and are pleased to not only offer first class horse racing, but now the best of summer concerts. The California Philharmonic is a front runner among orchestras – what better place for them to perform than at one of the world’s greatest outdoor pleasure grounds?”
The concerts will now feature an expanded list of accommodations that were not available at the Arboretum. The consistently challenging prospect of finding suitable parking will no longer be on the list of concert-goers concerns, nor will the displeasure of having to use portable restrooms. Attendees will continue to be able to bring their own food and wine, in addition to being able to order food from Santa Anita’s onsite restaurants.
“Cal Phil is honored to call Santa Anita Park its new summer home beginning June 2012. I personally have always been a huge fan of the venue and everything it has to offer, ranging from top tier horseracing to amazing views and atmosphere,” said Vener. “The energy at Santa Anita Park is palpable and we are thrilled to share the 2012 Festival on the Green convert series with our longtime followers as well as an ever-expanding new audience.”