Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra Brings It All Back Home
by James Hanley Donelan
This Tuesday night, the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra will give us a rare musical experience: the sound of a small orchestra. Classical music these days tends to come in very small or very large packages, either from famous soloists or big, bold orchestras. The in-between sound that privileged audiences of the 18th century hired for their “chambers” (big living rooms and dedicated music rooms — surely you have one of those, or both) hardly finds a place in 21st-century schedules. So, when the 30 or so members of S.B.’s Chamber Orchestra take the stage of the Lobero this Tuesday under the baton of Heiichiro Ohyama, we’ll hear something we can’t hear in too many other places. The orchestra has been going strong in Santa Barbara for 28 years, and remains one of the most consistently excellent concert experiences in the area. I recently spoke with Julie Rogers, the principal second violinist.
What’s it like to play with an orchestra this size? What’s different about it? It’s wonderful, but it’s difficult to describe. First of all, everyone is really nice and it’s great to play with a group that lets you hear how you’re playing. Everyone gets along, and you can hear different things in the works because you’re not lost in the huge sound of a full-size orchestra. Every piece has a loveliness you can’t hear otherwise, and we get to do interesting things. In this concert, for instance, we’re actually increasing the size of the orchestration for one work. We’ve got the whole string section playing the fugue movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 59, No. 3 in C Major, and it sounds wonderful. Then we’re playing his Pastoral Symphony [No. 6 in F Major] — with a much smaller orchestra than it usually gets. We’re also playing Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which I love, and it’s just right for a group our size.
How did you find this orchestra? How does it compare with other things you do? I grew up in Houston and went to school in Texas and Louisiana. I came out to visit a friend in L.A., and I never went back — there are lots of opportunities to play here, and I love California. Once, I was playing with the American Youth Symphony (I was only 24 or 25), and Heiichiro Ohyama was our guest conductor. We were playing a piece by Dvořák, and I was really motivated to play it well. I couldn’t take my eyes off him; he was that great and it was such an intense experience. Later, I got a call to audition for the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, and it’s been a wonderful experience ever since. The key to it all is his personality. He shapes things so well, and he has such energy.
What do you think of the programming? It’s perfect. We get to play things we love. There’s lots of Beethoven this year, and even when you’re playing old favorites with this group, it all sounds new. We’re playing Beethoven’s Second Symphony in January, which you don’t hear very often, and we’re playing Bach’s B-Minor Mass, which is just right for this group.
Anything to add? I know this sounds strange, but Santa Barbara is truly lucky to have a musical scene that can support a group like this — it’s so rare. We [the members of the orchestra] really care about the music, and it’s such a great group. You can hear how happy we are.
4•1•1 The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra will perform at the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m. Visit sbco.org or call 966-2441