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March 2, 2024

Guest Column | Monterey Symphony Returns to Salinas for ‘Love Letter to Hollywood’

Just 15 months following the end of World War II, a small yet passionate group of musicians and fans of classical music gathered for tea at the Carmel home of Grace Howden.

Less than a year later (April 28, 1947), the Monterey Symphony gave its first performance, playing at the Officer’s Club on Fort Ord, with Carmel High School’s assistant principal Leon P. Minear conducting. Two additional concerts took place in May 1947 at Carmel’s Sunset Theater and Salinas High School Auditorium.

From those humble roots, the Monterey Symphony has grown into a renowned nonprofit that produces and presents professional musical programs, along with educational activities and community events that engage the entire Central Coast.

From its inception, the orchestra has served both the Monterey Peninsula and the City of Salinas — and that focus has not changed.

On Thursday, Sept. 7, the Monterey Symphony returns to Salinas for an evening of beloved movie tunes. The event, called “Love Letter to Hollywood, Vol. 1,” begins at 7 p.m. at Sherwood Hall, 940 N. Main St., in Salinas.

Always interested in exposing young people to live orchestral music, the Monterey Symphony has made tickets free to anyone 18 and under. Adult tickets are $25, with tickets for teachers, active military and students over age 18 priced at $12.

Tickets are available online at tinyurl.com/yfjuy7wm. For the free tickets, patrons must choose the drop-down menu labeled “kids” and $0.00 will be reflected upon checkout. The concert presentation will be bilingual (Spanish/English), with language interpretation by Amalia Díaz.

The symphony encourages costumes of all kinds, and prizes will be awarded for the most creative.

Classical music and children

Since the mid-1800s, research has suggested that classical music can have numerous positive effects on children’s development and health. Studies reveal that it has a unique richness and complexity, which can help children develop super-power listening skills, along with an ability to articulate the emotions expressed by the music.

While every child may not develop into a musical master, every child does have the potential to benefit from classical music — especially when music teaching takes a broad sensory approach.

Monterey Symphony’s goal is to introduce as many students as possible to the magical experience of live professional music. Its extensive “Music for the Schools” program reaches out to local students through in-school demonstrations and concerts performed by a full orchestra. Its free Youth Concerts engage students from all over Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

Inside the ‘Love Letter’

The Symphony’s “Love Letter” concert is a tribute to Hollywood, with featured works from movie favorites, such as “Coco,” “Star Wars,” “Pink Panther,” “Cinema Paradiso” and more. It will be led by the symphony’s associate conductor Brad Hogarth.

The Love Letter program includes the following:

  • “The Magnificent Seven” Symphonic Suite, Elmer Bernstein. Edited by Patrick Russ
  • “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • “Mission Impossible,” Lalo Schifrin
  • “Moon River,” Henri Mancini
  • “Pink Panther,” Henri Mancini
  • “Cinema Paradiso,” for Solo Violin and Orchestra; Christina Mok, violin; Ennio Morricone, Andrea Morricone; arranged by Angela Morley
  • “Married Life” from Disney and Pixar’s “Up” for Chamber Orchestra, Michael Giacchino
  • “Black Panther Suite,” Ludwig Göransson
  • Intermission
  • Overture to “Beauty and the Beast,” Alan Menken. Arranged by Michael Kosarin. Orchestrated by Doug Besterman
  • “Coco,” Orchestral Suite for Orchestra, Michael Giacchino
  • “Harry Potter: Hedwig’s Theme,” John Williams
  • “Star Wars Suite” for Orchestra, John Williams

“Love Letter to Hollywood, Vol. 1,” will also show in Carmel at the Forest Theater on Sept. 5-6 at 6:30 p.m.

Through the years

Major growth and development of the Monterey Symphony began in January 1953, when internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Eva Gustavson visited the area and volunteered to sing with the orchestra. Her gracious act was a pivotal one, encouraging the symphony to attract fully professional musicians and conductors. 

A key moment occurred when the symphony’s board of directors recruited Canadian conductor Gregory Millar, who studied violin at the University of California, Berkeley, and later performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. 

During Millar’s time in the 1950s, the quality of the ensemble, its programming, and its soloists improved to such a degree that ticket sales in both Carmel and Salinas doubled his first year. Millar also guided the creation of the Symphony Guild (now known as the Friends of the Symphony).

In 1959, Leonard Bernstein named Millar assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, but Millar passed his baton to renowned trumpeter Earl Bernard Murray. Each subsequent leadership hire has led the symphony to great heights.

In June 2022, the Monterey County Symphony Association appointed Jayce Ogren as its 12th music director. Ogren conducted the May 2022 concerts for the symphony, which included works by Debussy, Schumann, Lutoslawski (featuring pianist Philippe Bianconi), and Rachmaninoff. 

A nine-member search committee made the decision following the May concert. Ogren’s inaugural 2022-23 season OVERTURE launched in November 2022 with world-class, transformative concerts.

For more information on the upcoming season, visit montereysymphony.org.

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