The Santa Barbara Symphony registered its vitality in two ways this week, as it announced the upcoming 59th season (2011-2012) and played a strong concert that featured former concertmaster Gilles Apap as guest soloist. Under the artistic direction of Maestro Nir Kabaretti, the Symphony has developed a powerful sound, displays remarkable range and flexibility, and has taken a leadership role in the forging of a cultural identity for the magnificently restored Granada. The program on Saturday, March 19, reflected this high level of achievement, and the season announcement, which came on Friday, promised another year at the same pitch.
Nothing shows the imaginative spark at the core of this enterprise better than the way Kabaretti integrates new material into the orchestra’s performances. On Saturday the revelation was Robin Frost’s Concertino for Solo Violin and Orchestra. Frost is a Santa Barbara composer who has known violinist Apap for years, and he has written a piece that deserves to be heard frequently. The Concertino, a wry blend of exotic melodies and American transcendentalism, captures the essence of life on the Pacific Rim as surely as the Beach Boys do, and in an idiom that’s more Aaron Copland than Brian Wilson. The remainder of the program offered Apap another opportunity to shine, this time on the bravura Violin Concerto in D Minor of Aram Khachaturian, and then a striking piece of orchestral painting, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
At the event on Friday, the symphony announced plans to absorb the programs of the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony for the coming year, and offered a listing and description of the concerts it has scheduled for 2011-2012. The upcoming season has been dubbed “Fantastique,” after the Symphonie of Hector Berlioz, with which the year will open on October 22. The guest soloist for the opening weekend is cellist Lynn Harrell, who will play Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor. The eye- and ear-opener of this evening will be John Adams’s Tromba Lontana, which calls for dueling trumpets to be placed in opposite balconies. Hong Xu will play Beethoven’s “Emperor” piano concerto in November on a program that also includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral.”
The January concert boasts high-flying violin soloist Anne Akiko Meyers for Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor. This is a grand program, with five works scheduled, including pieces by Bloch, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, and Ravel. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue awaits in February, and it is paired with Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 2. This February concert will also feature Chris and Dave Brubeck’s composition Ansel Adams: America, which will be accompanied by the synchronized projection of Adams’s photographs.
March, April, and May are devoted to Latin Passion (with guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto), Mozart’s Coronation Mass (with the Santa Barbara Choral Society), and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. As Kabaretti reminded those present at the announcement, which took place onstage at the Granada, “This is an American orchestra, and we intend to show what that means today.”