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Band Camp

Santa Barbara Symphony with guests Joan Tower,
conductor/composer, and Orion Weiss, piano. At the Arlington
Theatre, Saturday, November 11.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Orion2_color.jpgA multiplicity of woodwinds and brass
brought color, drama, and even some comic relief to the second
concert of the 2006-07 Santa Barbara Symphony season. Mendelssohn’s
incidental music to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream opened
the program, concluding with the famous Wedding March — an
appropriate tribute to the orchestra’s just-married conductor, Nir
Kabaretti. From there the program shifted gears as Joan Tower came
on to conduct her composition Made in America, a commission from
the Ford Motor Company Foundation that has been played nationally
by 65 orchestras.

No matter how many orchestras play it, Tower’s piece is unlikely
to become part of the standard repertoire any time soon. Based on
the melody of “America the Beautiful,” the work is marred by
insistent tea-kettle violins and faux-industrial bass figures that
fail to cohere into recognizable shapes or forms. Ford car horns
would have been a welcome diversion from the matter at hand, which
at times recalled the old jazz player’s adage about what to do when
you are out of ideas: “take it up an octave and trill.”

The program got off to a fresh start after the interval with
Orion Weiss joining the orchestra as guest soloist for Maurice
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. This is a marvelous and
sophisticated concerto with a bewitching mixture of moods and
textures. The English horn of Sarah Beck was heard to great effect,
and Weiss acquitted himself extremely well at the piano, lending
just the right sense of worldly nonchalance to the finale. The
concerto was one of the highlights of the season thus far and bodes
well for the future of this edition of the symphony.

The evening’s final selection pulled out all the stops for
zaniness, going so far as to include a raucous parody of the
Mendelssohn Wedding March heard earlier in the evening. The
composer, Jacques Ibert, was a contemporary of Ravel’s and another
Frenchman with a passion for musical blending and lush
orchestration. Termed a Divertissement, the work was really more of
a circus act, complete with the musical equivalent of high-wire
artists, trapeze stunts, clowns, and animals. There’s a bit of a
Viennese waltz in there, and a finale that sends up Sousa and his
ilk. It’s wise and witty music, and it showed our marvelous
orchestra at its best, full of laughter and pizzazz.

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