Rousing orchestra favorites, jazz standards, sultry tangoes and the Times Square ball drop will ring in the new year at the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s New Year’s Eve Pops concert at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center.
“It’s such a festive evening,” said Lisa Naufel, the symphony’s artistic administrator and communications director. “The hall will be beautiful. Everyone is decked out. It’s just magical.”
This year, patrons will even be allowed to bring champagne and other purchased drinks into the performance.
The symphony has put on the New Year’s Eve concert every other year since 2011 and this year will be joined by Orion Weiss — a world-renowned young pianist who has performed at Festival Mozaic — and Café Musique, whose gypsy, swing, tango, folk and “wild classical” music have made them a local favorite.
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Among the evening’s performances will be works by Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Grieg’s piano concerto and even scores from movies including “E.T.” and “Star Wars.”
“It’s music that everyone know and loves,” Nauful said.
Leading the program is Lawrence Loh, a sought-out conductor who helmed the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a decade and is now taking the reins of a new symphony in Syracuse, N.Y.
Loh is one in a string of guest conductors for the symphony following the contentious departure of longtime music director Michael Nowak earlier this year.
Guest conductors are leading each of the six performances in the symphony’s 2015-16 season, which began in October and runs through May.
The symphony is now undertaking a search for Nowak’s successor and plans to have the candidates as guest conductors for the following year.
A search committee has posted the position and expects to gather about 100 applications by the Feb. 15 deadline. They hope to select five finalists by the end of May and invite those candidates to conduct a “Classics in the Cohan” concert in the 2016-17 season.
After the performances, subscribers, orchestra members and the board will vote on their favorite, with the results factoring heavily into the board’s selection.
“It’s a long process. Hopefully, we’ll find that person in the first year,” Naufel said, noting it’s not uncommon for a search to take longer than a single season.
The search committee — with six symphony members, four board members and two community members — is part of a new spirit of cooperation that’s helping members of the orchestra and the board heal the wounds of the past year.
“We’ve really grown together through the process,” said Naufel, also the symphony’s principle bassoonist.
New committees including the search group and an orchestra advisory committee are opening lines of communication and strengthening ties between the two groups, Board President Liz Summer said.
“We now have a structure of communication and exchange between us and it’s been great,” Summer said, adding that board members have attended the first rehearsal with each new guest conductor. “There’s a relationship between the board and the orchestra that we didn’t have before.”
Although a number of orchestra members threatened to resign following Nowak’s ouster, in the end only three out of 70 actually left, according to Naufel.
“It’s been a difficult time, but everyone is making great efforts for us to go on,” Summer said.
Financial picture is brightening
Along with finding a new conductor and providing great music to the community, that also entails increasing the symphony’s subscriber base and improving its financial picture.
The current season began with lower subscription and tickets sales, though tickets sales have been recovering and organizers expect the New Year’s concert to sell out. The symphony is trying a new promotion after the new year, Summer said, selling mini-subscriptions for the remaining three concerts of the season.
Though the symphony has been operating at a deficit, Summer said she’s pleased with the recent numbers.
“We’re doing really well,” she said. “We’re moving toward profitability.”
The organization is also discussing bringing back the traditional Labor Day Pops concert, canceled this year amidst the controversy and financial concerns, though no decision has been made.
New Year’s Eve Pops
7:30 p.m. Dec. 31
Christopher Cohan Center
www.pacslo.org or (805) 756-4TIX