The Santa Barbara Symphony, directed by Maestro Nir Kabaretti, graced its endearing Santa Barbara fans with a bold and tasteful concert at the Granada Theatre Jan. 19 and 20.

The concert, entitled “Mozart and Mendelssohn,” started off with a piece by contemporary Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu. This daring opening piece caught me and the Mozart-loving audience rather off guard. Filled with dissonances and odd rhythmic patterns from a substantial percussion section, How Slow the Wind (1991) took the audience on a whirlwind of tone, color and grand gestures.

The piece is based on a three-line poem by Emily Dickinson and conjures up inspired images of gusts of wind and surges of the sea. The selection was not entirely out of the blue — last year was the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy, who bore great influence on Takemitsu. How Slow the Wind is structured around a 7-note recurring motif borrowed from Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, as performed by the SB Symphony last November. In homage to the great composer, Takemitsu also included elements of Indonesian traditional Gamelan music, from which Debussy was similarly inspired. While the piece was a risky choice, Maestro Kabaretti was sensitive to the conservative crowd by giving a short explanation prior to their performance. I was delighted that he did not hold back in his interpretation and direction, however, and am dually excited that Maestro Kabaretti is broadening the horizon from the comfortable standard repertoire that the community is so used to.

The concert continued with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, featuring soloists Glenn Dicterow and Cynthia Phelps. This was a much safer choice for the symphony, although this is not to minimize the great mastery with which they performed. Maestro directed the orchestra with enthusiasm and great ease, providing a supportive and responsive foundation with which the soloists could express freely. Likened to a brother and sister, Dicterow and Phelps were a thrill to watch and listen to. The overlapping dialogues written by Mozart were executed flawlessly by the duo, whose passions and declarations were harmoniously and vibrantly communicative. It was very clear that the two have an extensive musical history together; both Southern California natives are currently principal members of the New York Philharmonic. While the duo was obviously masterful in both technique and musicality, I felt that their liberal interpretations were at times over the top and excessively gushy. They sang beautifully with their hearts on their sleeves, but I feel that an air of lighthearted innocence may have better served to express Mozart’s charm. That being said, this rift could also be due to my relative immaturity in comparison to their obviously veteran musicality.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, also known as the “Scottish” Symphony. The dark and epic piece was supposedly inspired by Mendelssohn’s visit to the ruins of a chapel in Edinburgh. Overflowing with a broad range of emotional and musical content, the symphony did not let its appreciative audience down in its stirring performance of this romantic standard. Maestro exhibited the breadth of his ability in both direction and interpretation, again delighting the audience with no less than an excellent and inspiring evening.

A version of this article appeared on page 8 of January 31st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.