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UPDATED: Santa Clarita Symphony salutes USA's birthday

Nearly 1,000 attend summer's first Concert in the Park

Posted: July 4, 2008 12:12 a.m.
Updated: September 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Central Park in Saugus is the scene of summer Concerts in the Park staged by the city of Santa Clarita.

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An estimated 900-1,000 music fans braved a summer heat wave to see and hear the 58-piece Santa Clarita Symphony perform an all-American musical tribute Saturday evening, July 5, at Central Park in Saugus.

Conducted by Maestro Robert E. Lawson, the symphonic celebration of America's birthday was summer 2008's first free Concert in the Park; the series is staged each year by the city of Santa Clarita on Saturday nights in July and August.

The Symphony -- in its premiere Concerts in the Park performance -- saluted the great American musical with 20th century classics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim ("West Side Story"), Richard Rogers ("The Sound of Music"), Aaron Copland ("Rodeo," "Fanfare for the Common Man") and Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey ("The Music Man").

The program also presented favorites by Tin-Pan Alley composers such as George Gershwin ("Porgy and Bess") and Irving Berlin ("Symphonic Portrait"), and, in honor of America's birthday, spirited patriotic marches composed by John Philip Sousa ("King Cotton," "Washington Post March" and "Stars and Stripes Forever").

The concert featured a special guest performance by bluegrass fiddler Phil Salazar, playing the perennial "Orange Blossom Special" and other American roots-music favorites including "Sally Goodin," "Ragtime Annie" and "Old Dangerfield," accompanied by guitarist Hans Ottsen and backed by the Symphony.

"Do you like my band?" a grinning Salazar quipped to the audience between songs, gesturing at Maestro Lawson and the nearly 60 musicians behind him, who also enjoyed the joke.

Youngsters were especially delighted when Lawson welcomed Bullseye, the Target department stores mascot, to the podium as guest conductor for "76 Trombones," from "The Music Man."

In a special grant to the Symphony, Target underwrote $25,000 of the concert's approximately $30,000 cost. It's the largest corporate grant in the Symphony's four and a half year history.

During intermission, Lawson, in white tux jacket and black trousers, mingled easily with fans dressed far more casually in deference to lingering heat from the near-triple-digit temperatures of earlier Saturday afternoon.

At least three people approached him especially to thank the Symphony for providing something different from the usual Concerts in the Park fare.

"As I strolled through the audience, many people asked if the Symphony's inclusion in the city's Concerts in the Park series was going to be an annual performance," the maestro noted. "We'd like that very much."

So would 20-month-old William Biondo of Canyon Country, apparently; during the concert's second half, the youngster stood in front of the stage, right behind Lawson, holding a stick as if it were a baton, and conducting the Symphony as if he were the maestro.

"The Concerts in the Park performance is a significant milestone in the Santa Clarita Symphony's evolution," said John Dow, Symphony event producer. "It realized a four-and-half-season dream of providing an outdoor, Hollywood Bowl-style experience in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"And now in what is shaping up to be a season of firsts, we've played our first summer concert, our first black-tie gala is coming in November, and in January the Symphony will perform with Art Garfunkle at the Performing Arts Center," Dow said. 

To accomodate the large number of musicians for Saturday's concert, a larger-than-usual stage with more risers was constructed by a crew from Santa Clarita-based Vantage Productions led by Ron Bloom, who also handled the event's sound and lighting.

Videographer Ed Hobelman of Edward Martin Productions, also SCV-based, directed a three-camera shoot of the event "for archival and marketing purposes," Dow said.

"The concert looked and sounded great -- it was teriffic to have the Symphony as part of our Concerts in the Park lineup this year," said Mike Fleming, who heads the city's Arts & Entertainment and Parks & Recreation crews for the summer series.

The concerts are free to the public, and all ages are welcome. Concert-goers are invited to take blankets, lawn chairs and picnic dinners and enjoy the sunsets. Food, refreshments and sweets are available for those who'd rather not pack a picnic.

Concerts in the Park series sponsors are Power Honda, The Signal and American Medical Response; KHTS-AM 1220 radio is a partner.

Videotaping is verboten at all concerts. Alcoholic beverages and BBQ grills are also not allowed. The park is a smoke-free zone, as are all city parks.

For more information on the series and the lineup of performers, click here.

You can also call (661) 286-4018 or visit the city's Web site.

See Related Content for directions.

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