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Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 27

Tradition of excellence: Lompoc Concert Association opens 71st season with acclaimed concert pianist Thomas Pandolfi

By Joe Payne

Lompoc may still be a relatively small town, but for nearly a century, it's been part of a much bigger musical tradition.

The fact is illustrated by the Lompoc Concert Association, which opens its 71st season this year on Sept. 15. The organization began in 1947, explained the association's president, Molly Gerald, and has operated in tandem with similar music groups across the country ever since.

"All over the U.S., community concerts have a long history in big and small cities," Gerald said. "I think at the time when a lot of them started it was such a different time, and this was a way to bring live entertainment from bigger places into communities."

For this season's opening concert, the Lompoc Concert Association has invited acclaimed concert pianist Thomas Pandolfi to perform a program of classical works.

Pandolfi will share some of the most well-known repertoire from the classical piano tradition at Lompoc's First United Methodist Church, the association's regular venue. The program will include works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).

They are composers that Pandolfi's fingers know well, he told the Sun, from his childhood through his years at Juilliard and as a working concert pianist.

The Lompoc Concert Association opens its 71st season on Sept. 15 with a concert by Juilliard-trained concert pianist Thomas Pandolfi from Washington, D.C.

"I've loved music from the very earliest age and it's always had a very emotional impact on me, so no matter how many times I've performed certain works or hear them as a listener, the emotions that I feel that they conjure up, it's always fresh for me," Pandolfi said. "It has a very strong hold over me in that way, and I hope I can always convey that to the audience."

The amount of work it takes to be a true concert pianist is staggering, and Pandolfi is an impressively prolific example. Since he released his first album in 2006, Pandolfi has released 10 more, exploring classical composers like Chopin and Franz Liszt (1811-1886) but also some from the American art music tradition, like George Gershwin (1898-1937).

The Lompoc Concert Association works with two different booking agencies, Gerald explained, and a panel of board members decides on the season's guests.

"We try to keep the caliber just as high as we can within our budget," Gerald said. "We were just glad to hear about [Pandolfi]. He's young and very well regarded nationally and has performed international concerts as well."

The focus on quality acts is part of why the Lompoc Concert Association has always had members and a regular audience, Gerald explained, but that respect for quality goes beyond just the performers.

In the 1950s, the association bought a Chickering concert grand piano from an LA department store. The instrument stayed at the association's old venue, the Lompoc Theatre, and fell into disrepair over the years. But the association's current home for concerts, First United Methodist, approached the association several years ago with an offer: An anonymous donor would foot the $35,000 bill for a full restoration if the piano would stay at the church.

The association jumped at the opportunity, Gerald said, so performers like Pandolfi would have a historic and sterling instrument to play.

"It was a really big deal," she said. "It's enjoyed by all the performing arts groups as well as that church, so it was a gift for the community for the Methodist Church to take that on. ... It is wonderful for Lompoc that we have that piano."

Pandolfi has more than a little experience with historic instruments himself. He performed on a historic Erard, built in 1877, at a concert at The Frederick Collection's Historical Instrument Collection.

"It was pretty fascinating to perform on that," he said. "I've also performed on a 1928 Erard, which was owned by [Ignacy Jan] Paderewski."

He also has another connection with Paderewski, the Polish-born concert pianist who retired in Paso Robles and opened a winery. Pandolfi was a featured artist at the annual Paderewski Festival a few years ago.

Catch the show
The Lompoc Concert Association opens its 71st season with a concert by Thomas Pandolfi in concert on Sept. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 925 North F St., Lompoc. Cost is $25, $5 for students. More info: (805) 588-5971 or

The Lompoc Concert Association doesn't just book classically trained performers. The next show in the season will be a performance by the country group Nashville Legacy on Oct. 19.

The range of performers that the association programs reflects the musical tastes of its members and the greater music-going community in Lompoc, Gerald said. But classical and art music is still a big driver in the valley, which supports ensembles like the Lompoc Pops Orchestra and the Lompoc Valley Master Chorale.

Pandolfi's concert will definitely please the classical-loving crowd. He will explore three of the most lionized composers in the classical piano realm: Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. The first half will include two piano sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, including Beethoven's iconic "Pathetique" sonata.

"The first half I put together pairing two sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven, each written when the respective composer was 27 years of age," he said. "So it will be an interesting juxtaposition of those two sonatas. They're vastly different."

The second half will include various works all by Chopin, who Pandolfi said is one of his "desert island" composers, or one he would choose to study and perform if relegated to only one of the great composers.

"[Chopin's music] was the perfect marriage of brilliant virtuosity with this amazing poetic, expressive lyricism, which is I think really unsurpassed," he said. "He seems to really go to the heart or depth of emotions in such a way that almost no other composer does, at least at the piano."

The First United Methodist Church where Pandolfi will perform for the Lompoc Concert Association seats up to 400 people, and the organization's devotees usually fill out about 200 of those seats, Gerald said. Tickets are always available at the door, and there are discounts for students on the ticket price.

The season opener is a great chance to see a world-class artist in small-town Lompoc. Fans of classical piano music from across the Central Coast shouldn't hesitate to make the drive and hear Pandolfi performing on such a fine instrument.

"I encourage fans of Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin; fans of the piano; and fans of Thomas Pandolfi to come out to this concert," Pandolfi said. "I think they'll have a very enjoyable afternoon of music." 

Managing Editor Joe Payne will be at the concert. Contact him at

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