Killer B’s: Broadway, Beatles, and Bond with Bob Bernhardt

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 27, 2022
Bob Bernhardt

Back in 2020, the Santa Barbara Symphony canceled its annual New Year’s Eve pop concert due to the pandemic in its pre-vaccine stage. But everyone got to return to the Granada last December 31 to hear the orchestra play movie themes, pop songs, celebratory symphonic favorites and, of course, join in on the sing-along of “Auld Lang Syne” to close out the concert. 

Everyone except Bob Bernhardt, the conductor who has led the orchestra on New Year’s Eve for nearly a decade. That’s because Bernhardt – who gets booked for a bunch of holiday pops concerts all around the country every November and December in such places as Tampa and Edmonton and Detroit – came down with a case of COVID. It was asymptomatic, but after getting positive results with rapid antigen tests three days in a row, he decided to skip the Santa Barbara show for the first time since 2012-13 (save for 2015-16 when Santa Barbara Symphony artistic and music director Nir Kabaretti stuck around town to conduct the orchestra in ushering in the new year himself).

So nobody is more excited than Bernhardt to be returning to the Granada’s podium to lead the symphony. The conductor, who has worked with everyone from Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O’Hara to the Beach Boys and Wynonna to Jason Alexander and Ben Folds, has bona fide pops chops having performed extensively with the famed Boston Pops in addition to serving concurrently as Principal Pops Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Music Director Emeritus and Principal Pops Conductor of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. But a single concert in our little burg is one of his highlights of the year. 

Mela Sarajane Dailey

“I’m so excited to be able to be back making music with the orchestra and celebrating with everybody in Santa Barbara again,” he said over the phone from Edmonton last weekend. “The musicians are wonderful, the audience really enjoys it, and it’s a wonderful tradition for my wife and I to get together with very dear friends for the holiday.” 

Speaking of tradition, the song from Fiddler on the Roof will likely be one of the highlights in the December 31 program, as it closes out the first set of a selection of songs from popular Broadway shows, spanning Chicago, The Sound of Music, Carousel, My Fair Lady, and Music Man before a suite from Fiddler. 

“They asked me to do music that is more familiar this year, and I know how much audiences will love it,” Bernhardt said. “I always try to do music that I believe in, so all of the arrangements that I’ve chosen for the Broadway program are ones that I love, just top flight. The songs from The Sound of Music are arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, who at one time could walk down Broadway and see the marquees for 11 different shows that he had orchestrated playing simultaneously. He’s the genuine article.” 

The vocal soloist is renowned soprano Mela Sarajane Dailey, whose career highlights include starring in both roles of Mimi and Musetta in La bohème and performing as the soprano soloist in the Verdi’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, Brahms’ Requiem, and Poulenc’s Gloria as well as winning a 2014 Grammy Award with choral ensemble Conspirare. Dailey returns to the Santa Barbara Symphony for the first time in years to capture the hearts of the audiences singing several of the Broadway selections. 

The concert’s concertmaster, Elizabeth Hedman, normally the Associate Concertmaster for the Santa Barbara Symphony, will tackle the violin part from Fiddler made famous by Isaac Stern. 

“It’s a marvelous, just amazing virtuoso display for violin,” Bernhardt said. “Elizabeth will evoke all the emotions.” 

The selections of music from Bond films that break up the Broadway beat should turn the concert back into light and frothy fare as orchestra plays the Jeff Tyzik arrangement of “The Best of Bond” including the main theme and the title songs from Nobody Does it Better, For Your Eyes Only, and Thunderball along with the great Bacharach classic “The Look of Love.” 

“It’s really playful and fun. Just pure entertainment,” Bernhardt said. 

Dailey then darts back onstage to deliver “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods and “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera, the latter one of the singer’s favorites,
Bernhardt said. 

The symphony’s powers-that-be also requested a medley of Beatles songs, so the conductor snapped up the Tyzik arrangement of seven songs. 

“It’s not really a sing-along, but everyone knows all the words and tunes, so that will probably happen,” he said. “Which is fine, because it gets everyone warmed up for ‘Auld Lang Syne.’” 

Then it’s out into the night at the relatively early hour of 10 pm. Happy New Year! 

The Santa Barbara Symphony performs its annual New Year’s Eve concert on Saturday, December 31, at 8:30 pm at the Granada Theatre. Tickets include a champagne toast and festive party hats. Tickets are $55-$250. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit


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