Is it too early to be planning the fall and new year? Didn’t summer just start? If you’re Celesta Billeci and her longtime staff at UCSB Arts & Lectures, thinking years ahead is just part of the job. Long before this story, A&L signed off on a full calendar of events beginning in August and ending next May, with lots of room in between for surprises to happen. (And good surprises, too. This time last year, that surprise turned out to be Elvis Costello.)
“People always ask us, ‘What’s new?'” says Billeci. “But ‘what’s new’ is our modus operandi. We’re always adding new events. We want to keep it fresh and relevant. We don’t want to say this is it, and nothing more.”
Even as they go to press with this new schedule, there’s been more added.
The biggest news this season is the addition of a live HD telecast, bringing the National Theatre of London and its plays across the ocean to be screened, much like the Music Academy of the West and its own New York Metropolitan Opera in HD series.
Asking Billeci what she’s excited about brings a flurry of goodies off the top of her head: The new young star of jazz Esperanza Spalding (Feb. 27), the Vienna Philharmonic (March 1) in their first Santa Barbara appearance, a rare show by Steve Martin and his bluegrass band, The Steep Canyon Rangers (Oct. 8) and Sankai Juku, Japan’s most famous Butoh dance troupe (Oct. 28).
“It’s our responsibility to bring something new to the community,” Billeci says, along with the favorites that dot the schedule. That would include Pilobolus Dance Theater (Oct. 7), Will Shortz (Nov. 20), Michael Pollan (Feb. 10), Jake Shimabukuro (March 31), Paula Poundstone (April 10) and, of course, David Sedaris (April 29).
But it’s the premieres that really stand out this season. Bill Moyers opens the season (Sept. 23) not long after retiring from his PBS show, followed by Laurie Anderson’s brand new work, “Delusion” (Oct. 19), New Yorker Music Critic Alex Ross (Oct. 20), John Lithgow (Oct. 25), Ornette Coleman Quartet (Nov. 5), Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concert (Jan. 31), Grupo Corpo Brazilian Dance Theatre (Feb. 12), The Second City (Feb. 24), Kailash Kher Kailasa (March 6) and Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro de Cuba (April 3), among many others.
A&L is also bringing three young female artists in recital at Hahn Hall, of whom very few will have heard: Yuja Wang (Jan 14), Alisa Weilerstein, (Feb. 9) and Jennifer Koh (May 17). But people soon got to know Lang Lang after his UCSB appearance, so it is expected to play out similarly for the three musicians.
“It all comes together at the last minute,” Billeci says about the schedule, adding that it pays to get on A&L’s e-mail list for the latest announcements. For example, 10 to 12 lectures are added every month. “But we don’t take on more than we can do. That’s my job, to make sure that doesn’t happen. You have to have the discipline to say no.”
Arts & Lectures fans, by the way, don’t have to have any discipline. Not when there’s all this choice.