Our city supports all manner of great music making, from the three-chord thrash of punk rock to the whispering subtleties of small-group jazz and classical chamber ensembles. But amid this roar of diversity, there remains only one Santa Barbara Symphony, an august orchestra that continues to thrive as it enters into its 60th anniversary season. At a time when many orchestras in the United States and Europe are experiencing multiple crises — not only financially, but also with their labor and audience relations — ours sails along in a gorgeous new hall, making music that equals or surpasses the best in its history. The secret of their success at the S.B. Symphony can’t be accounted for simply, or traced to any one factor, but rather should be attributed to the coming together of multiple forces all energized and focused by a common goal — to provide the best possible experience for the listener.
On Saturday and Sunday, October 20-21, pianist André Watts will join the orchestra for the opening concerts of the season and to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program are the Santa Barbara Overture of longtime resident and celebrated composer Emma Lou Diemer, and perhaps the most famous of all symphonies, Beethoven’s No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67. I recently spoke with maestro Nir Kabaretti, who supplied three reasons to join him and his musicians this weekend.
1) To connect with creative Santa Barbara: “Every concert in this anniversary season has been programmed so as to maximize our relationships with some other aspect of the creative community,” said Kabaretti. “Whether it is this concert, which features the music of Emma Lou Diemer, or one of our future collaborations, like the pieces we are doing with State Street Ballet, the Choral Society, or the musicians of the Music Academy of the West, we are emphasizing the way that the orchestra belongs to Santa Barbara.”
2) To savor a masterpiece in live performance: “The Beethoven Symphony No. 5 is of course very familiar for a variety of reasons,” Kabaretti explained, “but that doesn’t mean that people have heard it played by a live orchestra, and, with a work like this, there’s simply no substitute for the real thing.”
3) To experience a legendary musician in a great hall: “André Watts first played with the orchestra many years ago” said Kabaretti, “and he just won a very important national prize, so he’s a legend in those ways, but he hasn’t yet appeared with us in the Granada, and that will be very special, because the acoustics are so good.”