AMERICAN MADE, ARLINGTON BOUND: In a healthy sign of life for the Santa Barbara Symphony, still stinging from an ugly divorce from beloved former conductor Gisele Ben-Dor, another significant American musical woman will be toasted at this weekend’s concerts. Joan Tower (pictured), whose new orchestral piece “Made in America” gets its Southern California premiere at the Arlington, must grow weary wearing the mantle as America’s best-known female composer, but the fact remains that the composer world (at least the part that tends to be granted public performances) is still largely testosterone-driven. At 68, Tower has been in the game and having work heard for long enough to be a fixture, and her music manages to be both intellectual and accessible.
New Symphony maestro Nir Kabaretti will briefly pass his baton to Tower, to conduct her work. In an ambitious and democratic gesture, the “Made in America” project involves having the new piece performed in all 50 states, by 65 different orchestras — that’s even better than hearing the national anthem in orchestral clothes.
Last month, Kabaretti did a smashing job and cut a tall, calmly commanding figure in his official debut. More good stuff awaits us this season, including music by another noted New Yorker, Aaron Kernis, and even a visit to the wild, wonderful world of great Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas next February. We’re reminded, of course, of Ben-Dor’s fascinating Revueltas Festival in town several years ago. But these are still the good old days, in a new chapter.
WEILL-ING AWAY: Kurt Weill may have made his name in the exotic void of the Weimar Republic, but he also created a body of music that continues to haunt and enrich. One recent reminder of the Weill touch — suave, angular, romantic without the cloying aftertaste — comes from our backyard: Ojai-based singer Anne Kerry Ford’s scrumptious record Weill (Illyria), fortified by the WDR Big Band, gives a fresh spin to the Weill songbook, with a new balance of jazz and theater musical values. Saturday night in Ojai’s Zalk Theatre, hear Ford-doing-Weill in a sparer setting, with pianist John Boswell. The show benefits perhaps the coolest small-scale theater around, Theater 150.
SLICES OF LIFE DEPT.: You may find yourself, strolling down a city street by night in America — take Shattuck in Berkeley — and a startling sound makes you feel alive again. Could it be? Yes, Wayne Shorter’s immortal, spidery classic “Pinocchio,” is being played in public by a lone tenor saxophonist. You feel compelled to pay compliments and drop American dollars into the hat.
He tells his tale of street musician’s elation and woe: “I could make more money playing the usual lame standards, but I like to play Wayne Shorter and Coltrane tunes, to practice my chops.” For a reality check, he adds “I just had a guy try to vomit into my horn. I gave him a good whack with it.” But at least he’s helping enlighten the public passerby, even subtly, yes? “A few people notice,” he shrugs. “A few people hate it. Most people don’t give a shit.” We beg to differ. Putting smart art into the public space is a positive addition to a cosmos desperately in need of positive vibes.
TO-DOINGS: For a too-rare dose of digital/experimental music, head to Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall at UCSB tonight (November 9) for the CREATE (Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology) concert, featuring composer-in-residence Natasha Barrett, just in from Oslo….Pink Martini, Portland’s campy but secretly deeply musical and proudly retro micro-orchestra, makes its Santa Barbara debut, Monday at Campbell Hall.
STAGE SPEAK OF THE WEEK: Jim “My Morning Jacket” James, talking about playing Oregon Trail as a kid, opening for John Prine at the Arlington: “When you won Oregon Trail, you got to some bizarre theater in Santa Barbara and that was the end of the game.” (got e? email@example.com).