Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Playing for Peanuts

Sunday afternoon was way too much fun.

Constant Companion and I were among the full house present at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts this past Sunday, October 9, for the world premiere of Playing for Peanuts: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.


Jazz pianist David Benoit, well regarded as the primo torchbearer for Guaraldi’s Peanuts legacy, along with his trio — Roberto Vally, bass; and Dan Schnelle, drums — were joined by the impressively large Santa Rosa Symphony. (Honestly, I’m not quite sure how all those musicians fit onto the comparatively small stage.) The Symphony was directed by Francesco Lecce-Chong, although Michael Berkowitz earned the spotlight as Principal Pops Conductor (beginning his final season with the Symphony).


Berkowitz was an ideal choice as conductor; he’s almost as animated as Bill Melendez’s TV special renditions of Charlie Brown and his friends.


This ambitious project has been a collaborative effort, for the past couple of years, between Benoit, Sean Mendelson and Jason Mendelson. Designing, developing and fine-tuning these new orchestrations of Guaraldi’s music — all arranged by Benoit — kept all three occupied while they were sequestered by Covid.


Their approach was quite clever: blending Guaraldi’s iconic themes — along with equally delightful, but lesser-known score cues — into themed “medleys.” The long-term goal is to take these new orchestrations “on the road,” and also to make them available for orchestral units across the United States (and anywhere else in the world). For the most part, the medley sequencing is immaterial, as is the decision on how many to include in a given performance by an ensemble of any size. Two, three or four medleys could serve as one-third of an orchestral performance; alternatively, many could be blended to make a two-hour Peanuts Guaraldi extravaganza.


Sunday’s Santa Rosa performance, at slightly more than an hour, came somewhere in the middle.