Before Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber there existed Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was the king of the Baroque period, composing over 1,000 compositions before his death at the age of 65. The West Coast Chamber Orchestra put together a Bach by Candlelight Concert on Sunday as a gift to the community and to show our mom’s that we totally listen to the same jams they used to.
The concert was held inside the Historic Presidio Chapel in Santa Barbara. The chapel asked for a reasonable $20 donation unless you caught the guy out front scalping tickets like he was at a Slayer concert. While it is a small venue, the chapel’s acoustics worked in the concert’s favor as the music oozed down the walls. A certain familiarity and warmth could be felt under the candlelight, the close proximity to the performers and the hospitality of the conductors.
Conductor Christopher Story VI welcomed the audience with a carefree familiarity that served to relax the mood. Indeed the entire concert felt less like an uptight night at the opera and more of a gathering of community. The night began with “Air on G String (from Suite #3 in D),” a relatively short piece, but just as beautiful as any other one of Bach’s works.
The conductor then revealed the big surprise of the night which came in the form of a Bach composition never before played in Santa Barbara. “Concerto for 3 violins in D” was introduced by guest conductor Dr. Michael Shasberger, and the three violin solos were performed by Tamsen Beseke, Jaqueline Suzuki and Julie Beavers. It was almost hypnotic to see the majestic gliding of the composer and violinists as they masterfully brought the piece into fruition. By the time the adagio segment began, a shiver was sent down my spine by the haunting, echoing melody.
The piece was then followed by a personal favorite of mine, “Fugue in G minor” most commonly referred to as “Little Fugue.” While it was originally a composition for organ (or piano) the piece was performed as a string ensemble. The consequential effects were a heavy downpour of sound that elevated the polyphonic repetition to new heights. The cello’s deep tone in particular shook me down to my core as the constant rephrasing of the iconic melody sent a relentless barrage to our ears.
After an intermission where two bottles of wine were raffled off (I’m sorry to say I did not win) the concert picked up again with “Arioso.” Eugene Mechtovich, violist, delivered a spectacular performance of the nostalgia-inducing piece. Perhaps it had something to do with the venue, the non-formality of the entire concert or perhaps it was just the candlelight, but I could not help but feel at home basking in the warmth of this piece. Call it pretentious or what have you, but I believe this music enables a certain spiritual healing in its listeners. Not concerned with selling records or getting bodies moving in the club, this type of music has a certain integrity and dignity seldom found in today’s music scene.
The final piece of the night was “Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major” with Tamsen Beseke returning on violin accompanied by Sheridon Stokes and Jamie Pedrine on flutes. The allegro section held a certain playful nature thanks to the flute arrangement but was then followed by the somewhat brooding andante section. The piece then ended with the presto section that tested the skills of all three soloists in one final display of talent.
The concert ended to the senior citizen equivalent of thunderous applause as the orchestra took its bow and the conductor told his last joke. I could not help but feel somewhat sad. The concert had not been too short, but clocking in at little over 75 minutes, it felt somewhat lacking. Nevertheless, the West Coast Chamber Orchestra gave a phenomenal performance for what small space they had. If presented with an opportunity to witness such a breathtaking event, recite the following mantra in your skeptical pop music obsessed mind: “respect the classics, man.”