Last Time Around

CELEBRATIONS: The March program of Camerata Pacifica will be performed in Santa Barbara at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. this Friday, March 17, in Victoria Hall. It will consist of three works: the Nonet in E-flat Major, Opus 139, by Josef Rheinberger; Between Tides, for Violin, Cello, and Piano, by Toru Takemitsu; and Jake Heggie’s song cycle, Winter Roses. The featured musicians will be, in various combinations, Angela Niederloh, mezzo-soprano; Sarah Thornblade, violin; Donald McInnes, viola; Emil Miland, cello; Tim Eckert, bass; Adrian Spence, flute; John Steinmetz, bassoon; Steve Becknell, horn; and Vicki Ray, piano.

On the face of it, just looking at dates, this is a program heavily weighted toward the modern, not to say contemporary. Takemitsu’s piece was composed in 1993, and Winter Roses, as most South Coast music lovers must surely know, was given its world premiere by the great Frederica von Stade and the Camerata in Marjorie Luke Theatre on October 9, 2004. It is hard to get more up to the minute than that.

Yet, Rheinberger — from Lichtenstein, where the last reigning Hapsburg governs his 10-square-mile principality — died in 1901, and his sweet music is unlikely to disturb even the most intransigent reactionary. Takemitsu’s music is weird, certainly, but neither offensive nor aggressive. And Heggie’s songs, which are settings of poems by von Stade, make for a deeply moving musical experience in a medium that cajoles rather than challenges. For tickets and other information, call 884-8410.

This Saturday (March 18) at 3 p.m., the Santa Barbara Music Club will offer one of its delightful matinee concerts of chamber music in the Faulkner Gallery of the downtown Public Library. On the program are Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata in C Major for Cello and Piano, Opus 119, Aaron Jay Kernis’s Air for Cello and Piano, and Carl Reinecke’s Trio in B-flat Major, Opus 274. As always, admission is free.

At last, Gisèle Ben-Dor will be back among us, conducting the Santa Barbara Symphony that she has brought to such a high level of accomplishment. It has been fun hearing all those talented candidates conduct her band (by the time this is published, we will know the name of her successor), but it is with joy that we hail her return for a three-program “Gisèlebration” that will round off her tenure as music director and bring the season to a glorious close.

Ben-Dor will conduct the first of the three programs this Saturday (8 p.m.) and Sunday (3 p.m.), March 18-19, in the Arlington. The three works on the program are: Jean Sibelius’s haunting and mysterious tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela; Erno˝ von Dohnányi’s charming, concerto-like Variations on a Nursery Song, Opus 25 (with pianist Robert Thies); and Antonin Dvořák’s paradigmatic Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World.”

This is a romantic program, and I think a rather nationalistic one. Sibelius was a fiercely patriotic Finn, and The Swan of Tuonela — written around the same time as Finlandia — was inspired by an episode in the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala. Tuonela is the Finnish underworld or Hades, which is surrounded by a river of black water on which a swan glides and sings.

Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony is, of course, the foundation of a uniquely American school of symphonic writing, even though the spirit and sound world of the work are thoroughly Czech. Dvořák did capture something about the space of America, the way it goes on and on. Just before the premiere, he said, “… the future of music in this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies. … These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them. All the great musicians have borrowed from the songs of the common people.”

For tickets to these concerts, call 963-4408.

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