Maestro John Larry Granger bids a fond farewell to the symphony
The Santa Cruz County Symphony’s 2011/2012 season will be one to remember—and not just for its inclusion of masterful works by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. It also happens to be the farewell season for Maestro John Larry Granger, who has served as the Symphony’s conductor and music director for the past two decades.
“It’s been a great joy and privilege to be the music director, but I felt that I wanted to retire like Johnny Carson did, rather than Hosni Mubarak,” the conductor jokes. “I didn’t want to stay too long.”
Though he’s retiring as conductor at the end of the season, Granger will stay on as music director for an additional season to help with auxiliary SCCS programs, such as youth concerts and pop concerts. He also plans to assist with the process of selecting his successor.
Granger, who routinely memorizes the complete musical scores of pieces featured in SCCS concerts, says his position has its stressful side. “This is not a career that you can just take time off from, ’cause you’re always thinking about repertoire or studying scores, which is an endless experience,” he explains. “You’re always looking for new things.”
During Granger’s tenure, the symphony has not only expanded its range to south county as well as north, but also implemented stimulating educational programs and formed alliances with numerous performing arts organizations. One of SCCS’s greatest coups under Granger’s leadership was receiving the California Arts Council’s top rating in 1996—a crucial step in getting more support from outside the Santa Cruz community.
Former SCCS public relations director Nancy Meyberg, who worked with Granger from 1991 until 2006, speaks glowingly of the maestro’s influence. “When other orchestras are cutting back and withering, the Santa Cruz County Symphony is staying in there and growing, which is phenomenal,” she says.
SCCS percussionist and personnel manager Norman Peck, who serves as Granger’s right-hand man with the orchestra, says the organization has “grown 10,000 percent” with Granger at the helm. “We’re right up there fighting for the funding dollars and the musicians and the artists with the best of them,” he says. “If Larry’s remembered for nothing else, I’d say it’s got to be for the way that he’s really built up this orchestra.”
Along with Granger’s integrity, Peck and Meyberg both count the music director’s quick wit and great sense of humor among his most outstanding attributes. Apparently he’s also a good sport: As Meyberg laughingly recalls, “When we began, I wanted a campaign of a bold new vision, because Santa Cruz is more youthful and exciting. So we got Paul Schraub photos of Larry in sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts. He went along with it! And we put him on banners, on the back of the bus and all over the place.”
Peck laughs heartily as he looks back on a publicity photo shoot for a symphony concert with local Beatles tribute act The White Album Ensemble. “Someone had found one of The Beatles’ costumes from the Sergeant Pepper’s album,” he explains. “Larry got in it, with the hat, and he allowed some publicity pictures to be taken. If I live to be a million, I’ll never forget that sight.”
The Symphony’s 2011/12 season kicks off Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 at the Civic and Mello Center, respectively. On the program are Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto” and Dvoﬁák’s “Eighth Symphony,” the latter of which Granger conducted at his audition concert for the Symphony in 1991.
Granger, whose post-retirement plans include traveling and designing some innovative programs that will give audiences hands-on experience with symphony instruments, is level-headed about his departure. “Building an orchestra is not something any one conductor does,” he observes. “It takes many years, and different people come and go. It’s like conductors and relay runners carry batons, and we sort of hand it off to the next person to take on the next leg of the journey.”
The Santa Cruz County Symphony performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz, and Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Mello Center, 250 E. Beach St., Watsonville. Tickets are $20-$65. For details, call 462-0553 or visit santacruzsymphony.org.