You know it’s a pops concert when the night starts out with a resounding patriotic march. And you know it’s a New Year’s Eve Pops concert when the paper-tiara- and sparkly-party-hat-wearing throng sings along using alternate lyrics that begin with the phrase “Be kind to your web-footed friends.”
Fortunately, when conductor Bob Bernhardt is at the helm of the Santa Barbara Symphony, such drollery becomes the norm. Bernhardt — who was chosen by his idol, the composer John Williams, to conduct the Boston Pops in 1992 — is as much at home with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as he is with symphonies and concertos. On Tuesday, December 31, the program shifted easily from the rowdy marching of George M. Cohan and John Philip Sousa to the sophisticated syncopation of Leonard Bernstein’s music from West Side Story. Members of the city’s tight-knit classical-music community received a splendid New Year’s Eve surprise when Robert W. Weinman emerged from the wings to take the conductor’s stand for some more Sousa. Weinman, who has seemingly cornered the market on this auction item — a spot on the pops program as guest of the guest conductor — was in fine form, much to the delight of his many friends and admirers.
Other highlights of the first half included a wonderful tango featuring dancers from the State Street Ballet both onstage and in the Granada’s aisles, a bizarre auditory ride on an elephant courtesy of the triumphal march from Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, and a whirlwind tour of some great film scores thanks to arranger Jeff Tyzik, whose The Big Movie Suite (2006) allowed the orchestra to stretch out on themes from Gone with the Wind, Ben-Hur, Laura, Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Rocky, The Pink Panther, and The Way We Were. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a full orchestra tear into “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” on New Year’s Eve.
Upon return from intermission, things got weird, but in a good way. There was an excursion to the Caribbean, courtesy of the scores to the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. From there, Bernhardt took us on a journey to The Mission, one of his favorite Ennio Morricone scores, this time with the help of Lara Wickes as soloist on a piece called “Gabriel’s Oboe.” The brass section of the S.B. Symphony had its turn out front when the trumpets shone on Leroy Anderson’s jaunty “Bugler’s Holiday.” The State Street Ballet dancers provided sumptuous visuals to accompany the one absolute prerequisite of all New Year’s Eve concerts, a waltz by Strauss.
By way of clearing the musical palate, Bernhardt then took the audience through something less obvious, although no less familiar. The first movement of Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s “Palladio” suite may not ring a bell as a title, but this beautiful theme is instantly recognizable as the music from the De Beers company’s longstanding “Shadows and Light” campaign advertising its diamonds, more than a few of which were in the house on this festive occasion. In a by turns moving and hilarious finale, the orchestra played the “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” of John Williams, and then both played (and sang!) the adorably silly “William Tell Overture” of Rossini.