Boulder Creek Music 

Concertino Strings Boulder Creek’s Orchestra in Residence

By Joanne Tanner and Julie Horner

The Boulder Creek United Methodist Church was welcoming on a rainy Wednesday morning in October. Classical music enthusiasts of all ages settled into their pews and the overflow audience stilled to an anticipatory hush. Stained glass windows cast muted colors, the soft patter of the season’s first moisture the only sound through an open door. With verve, the The Concertino Strings orchestra filled the sanctuary of the 120-year old gathering place with the melodious warmth of Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 8, RV 522. Allegro molto, andante, allegro. Hearts soared. A pause, then the second half of the program: Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Sarabande and Gavotte.

Boulder Creek violinist Joanne Tanner takes the role of “concertmaster” rather than conductor, playing with the orchestra to communicate key features of the music instead of using a baton. “I have led many string quartets and chamber groups that way,” she said.

Tanner said her adult students approached her in early 2021 asking her to initiate a symphony orchestra in the absence of any live performing orchestral group at Cabrillo College until 2022. “Many Santa Cruz County musicians have been participating in Cabrillo groups for years, and there are no other orchestras in the county for skilled amateur classical instrumentalists,” Tanner said.

“Since Covid, some have been gathering in garages and on decks to form small chamber groups, quartets, and trios. But an orchestra!” At first a daunting concept, once word got out, it wasn’t long before they had a full orchestration of violins, violas, cellos, and a bass. There were 12 performers for the first concert in late May, which was held outdoors in her “carport concert hall” not far from the church.

The first rehearsal was at the end of April and they have been playing weekly ever since, gathering more participants and hosting two more concerts, one in July and the other in September. Their final concert of the year will be on Wednesday, December 8 at 11:30 am at Boulder Creek United Methodist, 12855 Boulder Street.

About half the current group of 15 regular members lives in the San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains, and the other half commute from all over the county as far as Aptos and Corralitos. Rehearsals occur outdoors in Tanner’s ample carport with a varied audience of dog-walkers, families with strollers, skateboarders, and curious crows.

Tanner compiles the scores, multiple pages that she pastes onto cardboard “because I can’t play and turn pages at the same time.” A typical music selection for each concert program is a complete Baroque work in its original orchestration, and then several movements from a more modern or romantic work.

Tanner said, “There is a wonderful group spirit of enthusiasm and persistence that has developed, and everyone really is into it.” Tanner’s life partner Michael Fisher does a lot of the heavy lifting as harpsichord and vehicle mover, publicist, greeter, and video taker. The two also have an old time quartet called The Open Heartstrings featuring banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass. The name is in homage to the surgeries each band member has had.

Concertino Strings has hired a professional cellist, Renata Bratt, to assist Tanner as coach and player, and the group is replete with a harpsichord, played by Roy Stegman; elemental for an authentic and historically correct Handel Concerto Grosso. The Concertino Strings fills the classical music niche in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the sweetness of the music can bring tears of joy to the eye.
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Cover photo Joanne Tanner and The Concertino Strings by Julie Horner

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