California Philharmonic Festival on the Green
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Festival on the Green is now held at Cal Phil’s new home at Santa Anita Park, across from the Arboretum
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden on its own is a magical place featuring acres of lush and verdant botanical wonders as well as historical artifacts. Since 1947 the rancho once owned by famed businessman and investor Elias “Lucky” Baldwin has been under the stewardship of Los Angeles County and the State of California; the site includes Baldwin’s former home, the Queen Anne Cottage (which can be seen in the opening segment of “Fantasy Island” as well as substituting for the home of Bernie and Rozalin Focker in the film, “Meet the Fockers”). Peacocks that roam freely on the grounds can often be found wandering through yards in the neighborhood surrounding the Arboretum, and the presence of the now feral “Pasadena Parrots” give the Arboretum and surrounding area a strange tropical vibe.
For 15 years, the beautiful green landscape of the Arboretum has been the setting for the Festival on the Green concert series by the California Philharmonic. As the late summer sun sets, strains of classical music mingle with renditions of songs from Broadway musicals and popular artists such as The Beatles. Although you will find current Maestro Victor Vener and the members of the orchestra decked out in black tie and tails, the audience is quite a different story. Casual summer attire is the de rigueur, although the crowd runs the gamut from looking like they just came from the yacht club cotillion to having just stepped out of a smoke-filled VW van. The Arboretum closes early on nights when the Cal Phil are performing, but the gates are opened 2 hours prior to the show, allowing patrons to find the choices lawn spots.
Food at these concerts can be an elaborate affair; picnic baskets open and out pops fine china, fluted stemware, candles, live floral centerpieces, silverware, linen napkins, portable wine coolers – there’s some finer dining on display than some area high-end restaurants. Of course if you opt to partake of food available at the Arboretum, just as in classical music it’s all about the timing. Just to the side of the pool that divides the massive lawn, several local sell freshly made and prepared food prior to the show, but fair warning – when the show starts, they break it down. Many of the vendors vary, including Bristol Farm selling pre-packaged food and Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ whose meat-laced smoke can be smelled from across the field. One of Pasadena’s newest hot spots, Kings Row Gastropub provides some of their more portable signature dishes such as their white chocolate macaroni and cheese; on one evening Kings Row owner Shivie Dhillon was building a moist, melt-away pulled pork sandwich topped with slaw and drizzled with a sweet and unusual pomegranate BBQ sauce. Neighbors The Dog Haus flip burgers and grill dogs presented in decadent and glorious fashion topped with avocado, grilled onion, basil aioli, bacon, sauerkraut and any number of rich and fresh toppings. If you stand at their booth long enough you’re liable to end up with one of their latest creations. Looking for a cappuccino to sip during the show with an extended pinkie? No worries, as Boar’s Java House, one of the older purveyors at the Festival on the Green can set you up.
Once the concert begins a hush falls over the massive crowd and Maestro Vener conducts the orchestra in works from Bach to Bernstein; most of the shows mix classical themes with Broadway show music. At the last performance the audience was treated to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”, the theme from “The Sound of Music”, Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and a rousing sing-along of the theme from Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” As the evening progresses, guest vocalists solo with the orchestra and a full choir takes the stage to create the biggest sound ever to fill the Arboretum. In such a beautiful setting beneath the moon and stars, one can overlook the occasional screaming peacock in the distance that never seems to be able to find the right key. The last show of the season will be on August 20 when the Cal Phil pulls out all the stops with Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and features music from “My Fair Lady” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”, undoubtedly along with some surprises. This show will mark the end of an era for the Cal Phil, as next year they move across the street to bigger facilities on a specially constructed stage on the infield at Santa Anita Racetrack; undoubtedly they’ll perform music from the films “Seabiscuit” and “A Day at the Races”…
At Santa Anita Park:
285 W Huntington Drive
Arcadia CA 91066
GPS Coordinates: 34° 8’23.29″N 118° 2’34.54″W
At Walt Disney Concert Hall:
111 S Grand Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90012
GPS Coordinates: 34° 3’19.05″N 118°14’57.83″W
GALLERY: See images from the California Philharmonic’s final season of the Festival on the Green at the L.A. Arboretum
NOTE: This costs for this event and meal were provided by the venue and food vendors. The content provided was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.