Sequoia Symphony comes back to ‘live’ season with ‘Star Wars’

After a year of acclaimed virtual concerts, the Sequoia Symphony goes back to a “live in concert” season with the movie “Star Wars” with the orchestra playing the music while the audience watches the film at the Visalia Fox Theatre on Oct. 15 and 16.

The symphony has had great success in past seasons showing films in the Fox Theatre while the orchestra plays the music live on stage. After a year with no live concerts, it wanted to start the new season with one of the most popular films featuring stirring John Williams music, the original “Star Wars.”

Music Director Bruce Kiesling kept the music going last year with innovative short videos with smaller groups of musicians performing. Because of those videos, the symphony won the Chris Sinclair Leadership Award given by the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. ACSO said that of the hundreds of videos they watched from orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, those by the Sequoia Symphony were by far the favorite and most creative.

Those videos also brought in a much wider audience, and the symphony plans to create three more this season. The opening video is now available on their website, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

It features over 150 singers and dancers performing to “You Can’t Stop the Beat” created to show that you can’t stop the arts from coming back and thriving.


Covid restrictions

For safety measures, those attending the October concerts will be required to show proof of being fully vaccinated or proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of the concert. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status. Ushers will check for proof before anyone is allowed into the theater.

In addition, no concessions will be sold or printed programs given out. The symphony has been very safety conscious while making the videos and wants to continue that now that audiences are coming back to the theater, said Executive Director Josh Banda.


New season

The 2021-22 season will reprise much of what the previous season was scheduled to be before Covid closed everything down. Here are notes from Music Director Bruce Kiesling.

  • November 20—Daniela Liebman will play Mendelssohn’s Piano Concert No. 1. Kiesling went to college with her agent. Also on the program is “Scheherazade” about 1,001 Arabian Nights.
  • February 12—”Appalachian Spring” with Santa Barbara’s State Street Ballet. The symphony had so much success with the “Fancy Free” choregraphed dance video last spring, Kiesling wanted to add a dance concert. State Street does “The Nutcracker” in Fresno, although not this year. An 8-foot extension has been added to the Fox stage to accommodate the dancers. Second half of the program will be Duke Ellington’s “The River,” which fits in with Black History Month.
  • March 12—The biggest musical victim of Covid was missing the 100th birthday of Beethoven, which every orchestra was planning to celebrate. There will be two Beethoven pieces: pianist Dominic Cheli playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 and the orchestra performing the famous Symphony No. 5

April will include a two-week festival—Greatest Voices of American Music—which was originally planned last year. Two concerts will be part of the season package, plus a separate cabaret at The Cellar Door.

  • April 2—Four dances from “Rodeo” plus “American in Paris” and a new piece by film composer George S. Clinton, “The Rose of Sonora” with violinist Holly Mulcahy. This is a spaghetti western concerto with five short movements. Before each movement there will be a slide show telling what is to come. Kiesling did this piece with the Adrian Symphony two years ago. It has a wordless men’s chorus as cowboys. The composer will be here for the concert.
  • April 9—Two pieces by Charles Ives, one in two keys at the same time. Cool but weird. Also Bernstein’s “On the Town” and a newer piece “Made in America” by Joan Tower the best-known of American female composers. Plus another female composer, Jennifer Higdon, with a bluegrass and fiddle piece. Both Tower and Higdon have won Pulitzer Prizes.
  • The cabaret at The Cellar Door on April 6 will spotlight Hope Garcia singing music by Carole King and Aretha Franklin.

“Thinking into the future, I’m envisioning doing April festivals for three years in a row with an American theme, and then perhaps selecting a different theme for future years,” said Kiesling.

Although the symphony was blessed last year with increased donations, there was no regular income. The symphony has just learned it has received a $77,000 Shuttered Venue Operation grant from the Small Business Administration, so this will be a big help as the orchestra begins paying musician salaries, renting the Fox and putting on concerts again.

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