He’s Nirly Here

Nir Kabaretti Begins Santa Barbara Symphony’s New Season

On Saturday, October 14, Jennifer
Frautschi will stand on the Arlington Theatre stage and play one of
the most challenging works in the violin repertoire, the Brahms
violin concerto. The Santa Barbara Symphony’s new conductor, Nir
Kabaretti (pictured), will face the equally daunting task of
balancing the single voice of her instrument with the powerful
sound of the full orchestra behind her — and there is no doubt that
the performance will be triumphant. Maestro Kabaretti brings a
wealth of experience conducting Brahms with orchestras around the
world; Frautschi brings her extraordinary talent and a 1722
Stradivarius. The Santa Barbara Symphony will be in good hands on
this important night, with performances of works by Wagner and
Prokofiev as well.

Maestro Kabaretti took time away from his honeymoon in Florence
to discuss the new season on the telephone. Kabaretti, a native of
Israel, spoke with enthusiasm and confidence in a rich, clear
baritone.

How do you start a new season with a new
orchestra?
I wanted to begin this new era in the
symphony’s history with the glorious sound of Wagner’s
Meistersinger Overture, and I just love Brahms. Not everyone
appreciates him, but I’ve always thought that everything he wrote
was wonderful. He was really the last in the line of the great
classical composers — Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven — and he adhered
to strict classical form while giving it a romantic character. Like
Beethoven, he was a German who came to Vienna and focused on
instrumental music — only one opera from Beethoven and none from
Brahms. He also opened a new period, writing music that was loyal
to the regional tradition and paving the way for Bruckner and
Mahler. I’m looking forward to Brahms’s Requiem later in the
season, too. The way symphonic music and the human voice can
support each other is amazing.

How do you decide what to play? I think it’s
important to create a balance between well-known romantic and
classical masterpieces and lesser-known works, and to play American
pieces — it’s an American orchestra, and it should have a local
identity. One of the most difficult duties of a music director is
to balance the needs of all the different people involved: the
musicians need to play a certain range of works; the audience wants
to hear certain things; young soloists need to develop their
repertoire, too. But we have to expand the orchestra’s audience by
going in new directions. For instance, it’s traditional to play a
short piece with the Brahms’s Requiem — usually something
familiar — but I found this interesting piece by Aaron Jay Kernis,
the Musica Celestis, which had just the right atmosphere. In
another concert, we’re beginning with Mendelssohn’s incidental
music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another very familiar piece,
but we’re ending the concert with a less famous work by Jacques
Ibert called Divertissement that quotes from the Mendelssohn work
in an interesting way. It’s wonderful and light, but very
clever.

What are your goals for your new position here in Santa
Barbara?
I have many, and many are still to be
determined — I’m going to spend a lot of time this year learning
about the community and what its needs are. I do have one major
goal: to spread interest in music among young people. It’s not so
much that the audience for symphonic music is getting older — when
I was young, it always seemed to me that I saw lots of older people
at concerts; that’s always been the case, and that’s great. It’s
more that I want to make sure that the music is lively, not a
machine or a museum, but something living. Actually, it’s something
very delicate and fragile — you can always tell when something has
gone wrong, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting. Music
also helps with the development of skills young people need later
in life — it helps them in so many ways.

Who were your great teachers? Are there conductors from
the past whose work you admire in particular?
I had the
opportunity to be the assistant to a number of great
conductors — Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Claudio Abbado — and I
learned a lot from each one, from technical matters and rehearsal
technique to much larger musical things. I’ve always admired the
work of Furtwängler, Toscanini, and von Karajan, although they’re
all very different. Of course, you have to develop your own
technique, your own musical language, but you can learn even from
someone who is completely different technically once you develop an
appreciation for what he does. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, for instance,
is very different from me in style and technique, but I’ve always
admired him.

Do you have anything else you would like to tell
us?
I’m looking forward to working with the Santa Barbara
Symphony and these wonderful guest artists. Some of them will be
performing these concertos for the first time, and they’re all
amazingly talented. I’m excited and thrilled to be coming to Santa
Barbara.

4•1•1 Maestro Nir Kabaretti
will conduct his first concert as the official music director of
the Santa Barbara Symphony on Saturday, October 14 at 8 p.m. There
will be a matinee show on Sunday, October 15 at 3 p.m. For more
information about this event and the Santa Barbara Symphony, visit
thesymphony.org.

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