Santa Barbara Symphony 

By Steven Libowitz   |   February 8, 2024

For the Santa Barbara Symphony, the 2023-24 season expresses a number of the outreach efforts in its mission: to enrich residents’ lives by producing and presenting the highest quality musical experiences, performed with artistic excellence and accessible to the entire community – as well as inspire a passion for symphonic music in the next generation of audience members, musicians, and funders. 

The symphony has been not only continuing but enhancing its tradition of collaborating with fellow arts organizations in town to create unique experiences for concert-goers while serving as a resource to its colleagues. Most significantly, the ensemble dipped deeply into the rock and roll canon by collaborating with the much beloved, Montecito-based classic rock band, Doublewide Kings, for an evening of the music of Van Morrison. The sold-out tribute concert – which featured the five-piece Kings backed by a chamber orchestra-sized ensemble conducted by the symphony’s charismatic maestro Nir Kabaretti, andaugmented by additional musicians and singers – was the first of its kind in Santa Barbara, and the audience roared with approval of the energy of the band and the original orchestrations producing both big and subtle sounds. 

The Santa Barbara Symphony exalts the classics while leaving room for modernity and innovation (photo by Zach Mendez)

The New Year’s Eve concert brought a similar ethos to the stage of the Granada, with conductor and host Andrew Lipke – former longtime lead guitarist of a Led Zeppelin cover band – leading the orchestra in a clever thematic celebration about the passing of time with a set of pop, rock and Broadway classics. The festive evening also found Lipke trading the conductor’s baton for his guitar to play songs by Pink Floyd and a couple of his own creations. (The Symphony will have a big task topping that next December 31.) 

Back on the official season, the Symphony also found favor with fans of pop through a week-long artist residency with the innovative Grammy Award-winning string trio Time for Three, who played a spellbinding set in the intimate space of the Presidio Chapel in an evening hosted by the event’s sponsors, after which the engagement culminated in a pair of ambitious and well-received concerts at the Granada. Something similar is planned for May’s season-ending program boasting the prestigious pianist’s Marcus Roberts Trio, who will perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in a centennial celebration of the classic crossover composition. 

In another off-season endeavor, the Symphony was hired by State Street Ballet to perform the score for the company’s first-ever production of Giselle in the fall. SSB’s spirit-filled romantic tale of innocent love, betrayal and ultimate redemption was infinitely improved by having live accompaniment by the orchestra vs. a typical presentation that features recorded music. 

Also in October, the Kabaretti-conducted Symphony partnered with four different local choral groups – Santa Barbara Choral Society, Santa Barbara City College’s Quire of Voyces, Westmont College Choir, and Adelfos Ensemble – to perform a program anchored by Beethoven’s beloved 9th symphony, with “Ode to Joy” ringing out in the Granada in magnificent splendor. In yet another very well received vocal venture this month, the Symphony featured soloists from Opera Santa Barbara, another of the Granada’s resident companies, to deliver selections from some of the most thrilling moments of grand opera by Verdi, Rossini, Puccini, Wagner, and others. 

Still to come in March: the Symphony’s nod to the glamor and nostalgia of Hollywood’s Golden Age via live performances of songs and soundtracks from Oscar-winning movies synchronized to the screening of the classic scenes on the Granada’s giant screen in tribute to Gone with the Wind, An American in Paris, The Wizard of Oz, and others. 

Through educational outreach, youth ensembles and more, the Symphony is helping draw in the next generation of orchestral admirers (courtesy photo)

“We’re thrilled that audiences are getting a chance to experience the versatility of our esteemed Music & Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, who has long been known internationally as a ballet, opera and orchestra conductor,” said Kathryn R. Martin, the Symphony’s President & CEO, who has helped to shepherd the organization since joining less than four years ago in May 2020. “Santa Barbara is both benefiting from and leveraging his wide-ranging love for good music of all kinds. And classical music aficionados and fans are discovering the extraordinary artistic caliber and versatility of the Santa Barbara Symphony musicians, who absolutely love performing with each other.” 

To be sure, the Symphony is by no means abandoning traditional classical music programming. This month’s concerts, moved to the Lobero due to the water damage at the Granada, feature a strings-forward romantic program for Valentine’s week with Elgar’s“Serenade for Strings,” Dvořák’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor” and expressive Beethoven’s 7th, while April’s Titans of Sound program sandwiches Wlad Marhulets’ “Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet” with a Mozart overture and Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1.”

The free Music Van program visits third grade classrooms from Carpinteria to Santa Maria (courtesy photo)

Nor has the ensemble’s forward-thinking programming diminished its commitment to education. Indeed, the symphony is enjoying the largest enrollment in the three youth ensembles since before the pandemic, as even more students in elementary school through high school are learning collaboration, leadership, and musicianship with the only program in the region that is tied to a professional symphony orchestra. The curriculum includes attending the professional Symphony concerts at the Granada, participating in masterclasses, workshops and behind the scenes activities, both serving the community and setting the table for future subscribers. Meanwhile, third grade students throughout Santa Barbara County are being introduced to orchestral instruments through the Symphony’s free Music Van program that visits classrooms from Carpinteria to Santa Maria. 

“With more subscribers than before the pandemic and more first-time attendees than ever in our history, it’s clear that the community is finding the Symphony through many different paths and points of entry,” Martin said. “That was our intention for the last couple of seasons. This is Santa Barbara’s Symphony – it’s for everyone.”

But all of this takes significant funding, as ticket sales only cover a small percentage of the costs. As a $3.8 million nonprofit, year-round support is what makes such impact possible. There are many ways to contribute, with details available on the organization’s comprehensive website, 

“With the support of donors, we are creating impact by bucking national trends, creating predictability during uncertainty,” Martin said. “The relationship between the musicians and management creates an abundance of unique possibilities that benefit the community. We’re very grateful to have multiyear commitments of support and investment from the community. Santa Barbara has something very unique here. The Symphony is, at its core, a generator and incubator of artistic experiences that create moments of awe, connection, and belonging. The momentum is building.”

Santa Barbara Symphony
(805) 898-9386


Santa Barbara Symphony

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(805) 898-8785
Development Manager: Juli Askew


The mission of the Santa Barbara Symphony is to enrich the lives of Santa Barbara residents by producing and presenting the highest quality musical experiences performed with artistic excellence, which is accessible to the entire community; and to inspire a passion for symphonic music in the next generation of audience members, musicians and funders.

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

Nir Kabaretti and the Santa Barbara Symphony have made it their mission to connect audiences to experience the joy and power of music. Being a sponsor myself, it is thrilling to know that thousands of children each year benefit from their award-winning music education programs.
Anne Akiko Meyers, Internationally esteemed violinist and Santa Barbara Symphony supporter

The Symphony is for EVERYONE

Under the baton of internationally renowned (and Santa Barbara resident) Music & Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, audiences hear some of the region’s most sought-after orchestral and Hollywood studio musicians, 11 Music Academy alums and faculty members at UCSB, Westmont, and Santa Barbara City College. From October 2023–May 2024, you’ll experience moments of awe, harmony, inspiration and joy. Each concert along this symphonic journey is a must-see-and-hear event and an opportunity to commune with friends, family and the community.

Key Supporters

Donors of the $25,000 level
and above include:

Todd & Allyson Aldrich (B)(C)
Dan & Meg Burnham (B)(C)
Sarah & Roger Chrisman (B)(C)
Brooks & Kate Firestone (C)
Granada Theatre/Santa Barbara
Center for the Performing Arts
Samuel M. & Alene S. Hedgpeth (B)(C)
The Ann Jackson Family Foundation,
Palmer & Susan Jackson,
Palmer & Joan Jackson (B)(C)
Mithun Family Foundation/
John C. Mithun Foundation
Montecito Bank & Trust/
Janet A. Garufis (B)(C)
Mosher Foundation
Joan Rutkowski
Elaine F. Stepanek Foundation
Rachel Kaganoff Stern (B)(C)
Marilynn L. Sullivan
The Walter J. & Holly O.
Thomson Foundation
Dr. Bob Weinman (B)(C)
Zegar Family Foundation (C)

*(B) Board of Directors
*(C) Crescendo Members