The Santa Barbara Symphony kicked off their 60th anniversary season last Saturday with a gripping evening concert with conductor Nir Kabaretti.
In celebration of the community members who have helped to keep Santa Barbara’s vibrant classical music scene alive, the concert opened with Emma Lou Diemer’s “Santa Barbara Overture.” Diemer, a local composer, presents the spirit of Santa Barbara’s lively and colorful atmosphere through this work. It starts with what can be described as a very “American” rhythmic drive, filled with driving syncopations and richly dissonant harmonies. Toward the end it veers off into a Spanish influenced section, illuminating the Spanish roots of the city of Santa Barbara. The energy that the performers brought forth was invigorating — perhaps too invigorating. With the complicated rhythmic material of the piece, there were moments at which the different sections of the orchestra seemed to not match up. As it was the first concert of a very big year for the symphony, I imagine the anxiousness of presenting such a high pressure concert may have gotten the better of the performers at first.
But as the concert continued, the orchestra seemed to ease into their performance a bit more. The second piece they performed was Beethoven’s famous 5th Symphony — a daunting piece for those performing as well as for those listening, simply because we all know it. Maestro Kabaretti did not let us down, however, with a dynamic yet classic interpretation. I had goosebumps listening to the heart-wrenching theme of the second movement, sung by celli. By the last movement, the orchestra had coagulated into one powerful voice expressing the passionate jubilee that Beethoven blessed us with, and the crowd met the excitement with a standing ovation.
The second half of the concert showcased piano soloist André Watts in his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. If anyone reading this has not yet heard
this piece, I urge you to listen to it as soon as you get a chance. This piece is one of my all-time favorites; enriched with achingly gorgeous melodies and the sexiest and most passionate harmonies ever written, in my opinion.
It is also very technically demanding, both for the soloist and the orchestra. Watts brought in a full force of command and intensity, but in a way that made the piano sing, not shout. Everyone on stage seemed to be a part of this collective energy and embodiment of the piece. At one point I felt moved enough to jump up out of my seat! Watts made it seem effortless; it was as if the spirit of the music possessed him in these broad and bold gestures that swept the hall with their splendor. Unfortunately, he did not give us an encore but it was not necessary after such a musical treat.
The Symphony will have their next concerts on Nov. 10 and 11, presenting music from various French composers. Check out www.thesymphony.org for more information. Tickets are just $10 with valid student ID.