On Saturday, October 14, Jennifer Frautschi will stand on the Arlington Theatre stage and play one of the most challenging works in the violin repertoire, the Brahms violin concerto. The Santa Barbara Symphony’s new conductor, Nir Kabaretti (pictured), will face the equally daunting task of balancing the single voice of her instrument with the powerful sound of the full orchestra behind her — and there is no doubt that the performance will be triumphant. Maestro Kabaretti brings a wealth of experience conducting Brahms with orchestras around the world; Frautschi brings her extraordinary talent and a 1722 Stradivarius. The Santa Barbara Symphony will be in good hands on this important night, with performances of works by Wagner and Prokofiev as well.
Maestro Kabaretti took time away from his honeymoon in Florence to discuss the new season on the telephone. Kabaretti, a native of Israel, spoke with enthusiasm and confidence in a rich, clear baritone.
How do you start a new season with a new orchestra? I wanted to begin this new era in the symphony’s history with the glorious sound of Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture, and I just love Brahms. Not everyone appreciates him, but I’ve always thought that everything he wrote was wonderful. He was really the last in the line of the great classical composers — Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven — and he adhered to strict classical form while giving it a romantic character. Like Beethoven, he was a German who came to Vienna and focused on instrumental music — only one opera from Beethoven and none from Brahms. He also opened a new period, writing music that was loyal to the regional tradition and paving the way for Bruckner and Mahler. I’m looking forward to Brahms’s Requiem later in the season, too. The way symphonic music and the human voice can support each other is amazing.
How do you decide what to play? I think it’s important to create a balance between well-known romantic and classical masterpieces and lesser-known works, and to play American pieces — it’s an American orchestra, and it should have a local identity. One of the most difficult duties of a music director is to balance the needs of all the different people involved: the musicians need to play a certain range of works; the audience wants to hear certain things; young soloists need to develop their repertoire, too. But we have to expand the orchestra’s audience by going in new directions. For instance, it’s traditional to play a short piece with the Brahms’s Requiem — usually something familiar — but I found this interesting piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, the Musica Celestis, which had just the right atmosphere. In another concert, we’re beginning with Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another very familiar piece, but we’re ending the concert with a less famous work by Jacques Ibert called Divertissement that quotes from the Mendelssohn work in an interesting way. It’s wonderful and light, but very clever.
What are your goals for your new position here in Santa Barbara? I have many, and many are still to be determined — I’m going to spend a lot of time this year learning about the community and what its needs are. I do have one major goal: to spread interest in music among young people. It’s not so much that the audience for symphonic music is getting older — when I was young, it always seemed to me that I saw lots of older people at concerts; that’s always been the case, and that’s great. It’s more that I want to make sure that the music is lively, not a machine or a museum, but something living. Actually, it’s something very delicate and fragile — you can always tell when something has gone wrong, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting. Music also helps with the development of skills young people need later in life — it helps them in so many ways.
Who were your great teachers? Are there conductors from the past whose work you admire in particular? I had the opportunity to be the assistant to a number of great conductors — Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado — and I learned a lot from each one, from technical matters and rehearsal technique to much larger musical things. I’ve always admired the work of Furtwängler, Toscanini, and von Karajan, although they’re all very different. Of course, you have to develop your own technique, your own musical language, but you can learn even from someone who is completely different technically once you develop an appreciation for what he does. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, for instance, is very different from me in style and technique, but I’ve always admired him.
Do you have anything else you would like to tell us? I’m looking forward to working with the Santa Barbara Symphony and these wonderful guest artists. Some of them will be performing these concertos for the first time, and they’re all amazingly talented. I’m excited and thrilled to be coming to Santa Barbara.
4•1•1 Maestro Nir Kabaretti will conduct his first concert as the official music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony on Saturday, October 14 at 8 p.m. There will be a matinee show on Sunday, October 15 at 3 p.m. For more information about this event and the Santa Barbara Symphony, visit thesymphony.org.