When Joan Kwuon emerged from the wings to play in front of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra last Tuesday, Beethoven hadn’t given her much to do at first. Concertos go that way sometimes-Beethoven’s only violin concerto, in D Major (Opus 61), begins with a long passage for the orchestra alone, and the soloist just has to wait. Most players shift around impatiently, but Kwuon, in a gorgeous turquoise gown, maintained a graceful and confident pose, tilting her head slightly toward different sections as each took the main theme. When she began playing, it was easy to understand why she seemed so calm-she has perfect clarity, a sweet, rich tone, and a clean, straightforward attack that Beethoven would have appreciated. This concerto, written at the height of the composer’s heroic middle period, likewise requires performers to balance its competing demands for power and subtlety, since it develops a bold and simple theme into an extremely complex musical statement; Kwuon managed it with ease. Maestro Ohyama’s precise baton led Kwuon and the Chamber Orchestra through its many twists and turns, filling the Lobero with Beethoven’s triumphant vision of the composer as the consummate artist.
After the intermission, Ohyama and his orchestra rose to another challenge: taking a work that includes a tune more familiar than “Happy Birthday” and making it interesting. Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (opuses 21 and 61), fortunately, never gets tired, and Ohyama’s interpretation gave new weight to a work that in other hands might have seemed slight. In the overture, for instance, the violins recreate the sound of fairies flying around an enchanted forest and the effect can be cloying, but in this performance, the horns and lower strings supported their flightiness with surprising force. After a brief-and wise-pause, Ohyama returned to the stage for the clever “Scherzo Movement,” juxtaposing its musical jokes with serious undertones. Similarly, Ohyama and the orchestra did more than sing us a lullaby in its well-known nocturne, making it into a thoughtful meditation rather than a prelude to sleep. The “Wedding March” finale, one of the two mandatory pieces of wedding music, sent the audience out into the night with happy visions of marital bliss and the knowledge that if winter comes, spring and midsummer dreams cannot be far behind.