Santa Barbara Symphony, conducted by Kynan Johns, with pianist
Fabio Bidini. At the Arlington Theatre, Saturday, February 18.

Well, that’s the way it goes. This was to have been Kynan
Johns’s big roll of the dice, his chance to knock our socks off and
be proclaimed the Santa Barbara Symphony’s new music director by
popular acclaim, or something like that. In fact, Johns did about
as well, and made as good an impression, as it is possible for a
conductor to do in one rather short program of three works. He got
a lovely, lyrical sound from the band, and seemed to have a genuine
rapport with the musicians. His readings were conservative and
unchallenging — a pretty fair tack to take before a Santa Barbara
audience. Yet most of Johns’s subtle and accomplished musicianship
faded into the background once Fabio Bidini sat on the piano stool
and played the first few notes of the solo part in Serge
Prokofiev’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in C Major, Opus
26. Bidini was so fast and slashing, then so intriguingly
mysterious, then so triumphantly virtuosic, that the audience
exhausted itself applauding and nearly forgot Johns altogether. So
many times was he called back that he finally sat down and played
some posthumous Chopin — a gorgeous and haunting Nocturne. I ran
across Bidini in the lobby and congratulated him on his triumph and
asked about the encore. “I like to play it after something like the
Prokofiev,” he said, “to prove that I know some tunes, too.” The
concert opened with Leos Janáček’s Suite, Opus 3, with a small
orchestra. It seemed a suite of dances — some sophisticated, others
folksy, but all with that smoky Slavic lilt, poured into Hapsburg
molds, which gives Czech music its unique flavor. It was very
pleasant, but Johns might have opened with something a little more
exciting. After the intermission, lest we forget whose 250th
birthday it is this year, the orchestra played Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, called the “Jupiter.”
This has never been my favorite Mozart symphony, and Johns gave it
such a light, cautious reading that it didn’t move up in my
estimation, nor down. In two concerts at the Arlington, I guess
that more people heard this work than did while Mozart was alive.
Well, now we have heard from all the candidates for music director,
and I consider them all completely qualified to succeed Gisèle
Ben-Dor. My personal choice, from the beginning, was for Lawrence
Leighton Smith — not based on the concert he conducted last year,
but on the five years I heard him conduct at the Music Academy. He
is a genius, and I would love to have him back in Santa


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