In the arena of outdoor summer concerts, Symphony on the Green is North County's answer to the Boston Pops and the Hollywood Bowl.
The series, held on the driving range of the Rancho Bernardo Inn, opens on the Fourth of July with a concert by the Lettermen trio and the Musical Knights Orchestra.
Composer and band leader Henry Mancini performs July 28; the San Diego Symphony, under the baton of guest conductor Gary Sheldon, plays Aug. 19. Master of ceremonies for the three-part series is Al Deahl, a Rancho Bernardo resident and host of the KPBS-FM program "Pacific Ballroom," a retrospective of Swing band recordings.
The series' opener July 4th combines '60s nostalgia with the evergreen sounds of pre-World War II Big-Band sonorities.
The Lettermen won nine gold records during the 1960s and early 1970s. "Goin' Out of My Head," "Hurts So Bad," and "Summer Place" are among the tunes for which these masters of smooth harmony are known. Lead singer Tony Butala is the sole founding member still with the trio.
Musical Knights Orchestra, which got its start in Oakland back in 1923, was known for its novelty tunes. It was founded by Horace Heidt, who died in 1986. His son, Horace Heidt Jr., has taken over the band, and continues to use his dad's arrangements. In addition to continuing his father's legacy, the younger Heidt leads the band at the Los Angeles Raiders home football games.
"Heidt was one of the pioneer radio bands," Deahl said. "One of his better-known shows was the Hires Root Beer Radio Show, which flourished in the early 1940s." Comedian Art Carney and singer Gordon MacRae both launched their careers with the original Musical Knights, Deahl said.
On July 28, Mancini will appear for the third time at Symphony on the Green. Mancini holds the all-time attendance record for the series, according to board member Nanette Strull. In 1982, Mancini drew more than 7,000 people.
Mancini's finesse on the podium is matched by his fluent composing pen. He is best known for his easy-listening hits "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses," and "Dear Heart"--not to mention his trademark "Pink Panther Theme."
The season closes Aug. 19 with the San Diego Symphony's all-Gershwin program, featuring piano soloist Robert Taub. Among the numbers to be played are "Rhapsody in Blue," excerpts from "Porgy and Bess," variations on "I've Got Rhythm," and "Strike Up the Band."
The Rancho Bernardo site seats 2,000 and accommodates many more picnickers on the adjacent hillsides, where an amplification system beams the concert.
Symphony on the Green was started in 1972 by Chris Christopherson, who was a vice president of the San Diego Symphony board and a Rancho Bernardo resident.
"He thought it would be fun to bring the symphony out here for a concert, and he made the arrangements with the developer to use the site at the driving range. For that first concert they sold very few tickets in advance, but the night of the concert, over 6000 came," Strull said
Symphony on the Green patrons can bring picnics from home or purchase food at the site.
SYMPHONY ON THE GREEN
On the driving range at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive
July 4: The Lettermen and Musical Knights Orchestra.
July 28: Henry Mancini.
Aug 19: The San Diego Symphony with guest conductor Gary Sheldon.
Tickets: Season tickets on sale at the Symphony on the Green office at Home Savings of America, 16710 Bernardo Center Drive, and by phone (487-3773). For chair seats, the series is $40; $32 and $16 for adult and teen blanket seating, respectively. Tickets for individual concerts are $15, $12, and $6, in the same categories.
Parking: Street parking only. Handicapped parking in the country club lot available by reservation.