Rows of white jackets greeted John Williams as he took the stage at the Santa Barbara Bowl Saturday night and the Music Academy of the West’s new season began. Williams, one of the most prolific composers of music for film, started things off boldly, with a fresh, sparkling performance of Shostakovich’s Festival Overture. The rest of the concert was all Williams, but the choice of Shostakovich was entirely appropriate-Williams shares the Russian composer’s ability to incorporate folk melodies into dissonant, modern harmonies and complex rhythms.
This connection became even clearer when Gil Shaham (pictured above left) played Williams’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Despite the work’s extreme technical challenges, Shaham performed with energy, enthusiasm, and a sense of ease behind the urgency of its melodic lines. In particular, Shaham’s handling of the cadenza showed us his extraordinary range and skill, rapidly moving from a brilliant legato line to a series of double-stops and arpeggios, all the while making a single, clear statement. The Academy Festival Orchestra followed Williams’s baton through the work’s difficult rhythms precisely, and the overall effect was stimulating and challenging.
By David Bazemore