Santa Barbara Symphony, Under New Management, Segues to Streaming

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 28, 2020

Having your CEO depart in the middle of a pandemic that caused cancellation of the rest of the season’s concerts probably isn’t the best thing for building the confidence of the local classical music community. Fortunately, the Santa Barbara Symphony was able to announce its Interim CEO, Kathryn Martin, even before the then-current Executive Director/CEO Kevin Marvin tendered his resignation (to return to Colorado for personal and family reasons).

Just as Mr. Marvin was responsible for bringing the healing power of music to this community in 2018, post debris flow, Ms Martin – who boasts a 30-year career leading arts and culture organizations during times of transition – also temporarily ran the ensemble briefly three years ago.

The new interim director isn’t daunted by the prospect of saving the symphony in the wake of the pandemic, having only recently pushed through challenges certainly at least as daunting as coping with quarantine.

“When I was travelling from San Diego to lead the Symphony as Interim Executive Director back in 2016, it was then that my husband and I began imagining moving to Santa Barbara,” Martin told me in an email interview. “Long story short, since then our son survived brain lymphoma, my husband retired early, and we now live in the Funk Zone. Being able to be of service in our own (new) community means a lot to me.”

Ms Martin quickly retooled the symphony’s response to COVID-19, focusing more on the educational aspect, while rejiggering “Sundays with the Symphony,” the ensemble’s rebroadcast of previously recorded concerts that has aired just two 30-minute episodes curated by the music director, Nir Kabaretti.

“Leading in times of change is where I thrive and where I can make a difference,” Martin said. “During the pandemic, I am charged with creating a road map forward, when many of the roads have all been washed away.”

As such, she said, the Symphony is pivoting quickly and has developed momentum around “Sundays with the Symphony,” she explained.

“At this moment, we are collaborating with our orchestra musicians, teaching artists and students to add more exciting ways to capitalize on the multifaceted creativity of the Symphony and deliver our mission in the virtual setting.”

The plans are for “Sundays at the Symphony” to not only present past performances but also feature live interviews and performances with members of the Symphony family on a special page dedicated to the series. Meanwhile, past episodes of the series – originally slated to air only once – are now available to hear and view on the Symphony’s website at any time, including the May offering of music by the beloved late Santa Barbara composer Robin Frost.

Better news is that Kabaretti – a frequent world traveler with conducting work in Europe and elsewhere – is holed up here in Santa Barbara with his family, Martin said.

“(He is) a fountain of artistic possibility and is interested in looking for new, virtual ways to deliver our mission… Partnering with Nir (is) in many ways the only effortless part of my job. He is a true gem, a community resource, an extraordinary collaborator and strategist, and I am grateful for his artistic vision.”

Also on the cutting edge, the Symphony’s Music Education Center programs now provide students with instruction 100% over Zoom. That makes sense, since the organization’s mission revolves around community involvement and education.

“Music education – in the broadest of definitions – is the DNA of the Symphony,” Martin wrote.



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