The students of Santa Monica High School’s symphony orchestra are trying to make the best of a terrible tragedy.
After having their trip to Europe canceled due to the March bombings in Belgium, they immediately expressed interest in figuring out a way to support victims of terror around the world.
Their goal will come to fruition at 7:30 p.m. June 12, when they will perform a benefit concert at Disney Hall in Downtown Los Angeles to raise money for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“They really have their hearts into this concert,” Samohi orchestra director Joni Swenson said of her student musicians. “They felt their lives had been affected by terrorism in the world, and they wanted to do what they could do help victims of terrorism and violence.”
Earlier this spring, Swenson was supposed to lead a group of 83 students, 11 parent chaperones and a few educators on a 10-day trip whose itinerary included stops in Paris, Bruges and Amsterdam. The orchestra was slated to perform at Salle Gaveau, an historic concert hall in the French capital, and stop in Belgium on its way to Amsterdam, where it had planned a performance at the world-renowned Royal Concertgebouw.
Then, on March 22, the day before the orchestra was set to leave for Europe, terror struck Brussels. The airport and metro bombings in that city killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds more, putting authorities and world leaders on notice. Swenson and Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials canceled the orchestra’s trip due to safety concerns.
Since Swenson’s students were missing out on the chance to play at some famous European concert halls, she wanted their benefit to be held at another esteemed venue. Swenson worked with Musical Celebrations, a concert organizing group, to arrange the show at Disney Hall.
Santa Monica City Council recently allocated $5,000 in discretionary funds towards the $20,000 rental fee for Disney Hall. The council had previously allocated $24,000 towards the orchestra’s $357,000 overseas trip, according to a City report, and the City’s initial contribution could be recovered as part of an ongoing insurance claim to recover costs.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to recoup all the funds,” said Swenson, who added that the orchestra has pro bono help from an insurance attorney. “We’re in good shape. And that’s not deterring our fundraising efforts for Red Cross.”
The students are planning to perform Leonard Bernstein’s overture to “Candide,” Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose” suite, Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2” and Nikolai Rismy-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” The musicians have been working on perfecting their parts since August.
“It’s been a whole year of learning this repertoire,” Swenson said, “so they feel like they’re going to play it in a great venue and hopefully raise funds for a great cause.
“This is a very unique opportunity. I think the concert is going to be wonderful, and we hope to pack the house.”