Keyboard Sublimity

Andr¡s Schiff

PIANO PROMETHEUS: As an immediate impression and also viewed in retrospect, one of the most profound classical events of the past five years in Santa Barbara happened three years ago, when Andr¡s Schiff brought his interpretation of the mighty Bach Goldberg Variations to the suitably intimate atmosphere of the Lobero Theatre. Schiff’s stunning ECM recording brought new, refreshed, and personalized life to the Bach masterwork, a piece that has been so often granted umbilical association with Glenn Gould’s two classic recordings.

Schiff returns to the Lobero on Friday, as part of the CAMA recital series, and we’re invited to bring high expectations along again. Post-Goldberg, the great Hungarian pianist has been delving deep into the Beethoven piano sonatas, and just as he found new deposits of meaning and expression in Bach, his Beethoven project is a vast source of inspiration. And it’s a fascinating, continuing saga, each new release inviting us into the deep end and offering complex reflections on humanity in musical form.

ECM has so far released five volumes of the eventual nine, and the latest includes the “Waldstein,” heard in town recently as played-ravishingly-by Irish pianist Barry Douglas, to kick off the Camerata Pacifica season. On the most recent recording, as throughout the series, Schiff achieves a balance of the virtuosic bravado and soul-searching required for Beethoven, a balance that is rarely attained. At the Lobero, Schiff will focus on Sonatas No. 5-8 from Volume II of the recordings, capped off by the ever-popular “Pathetique,” which sounds somehow rejuvenated in Schiff’s hands. Friday’s recital promises to be another great and memorable encounter, right on East Canon Perdido. Don’t miss it.

FIDDLES ‘N’ OLD SCHOOLS: Now that the Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention is up to its 36th annual affair, this Sunday at the Stow House in Goleta, you’d think we’d have grown accustomed to it, or at least slipped into blase complacency about the thing-but no. For those who have known and loved this great musical and cultural event, some of us going back to the very first ones held by the UCSB lagoon, its level of inspiration and consolation seem only to increase as the years slip by.

Partly, that’s because of the timeless sounds of acoustic instruments-fiddles, banjos, mandolins, flat-picked guitars, etc.-digging deep into an Americana which has little to do with the strange landscape of modern popular music. Partly, too, it’s because of the magical blend of those sounds with a site reeling with Goletan “good land” charm. Fiddle conventioneers can expect to find contestants in multiple categories and skill levels performing on the main stage. In another corner, the Showcase Stage this year features the noted old-timey father-and-son team of Tom and Patrick Sauber, the Gap Tooth Ramblers, the Lone Hill Ramblers, and Molly’s Revenge. Pre-planned activities aside, there will certainly be plenty of impromptu sideline action all over the Stow House property. Jam sessions may bubble up anywhere, as the spirit moves. And, if the past is a reliable barometer, the spirit always manages to move at the Fiddlers’ Convention.

Black Francis

TO-DOINGS: In 2004, the legendary razor-edge punk-pop ’80s band the Pixies made a celebrated return to action, landing at the Bowl and nicely shaking up the joint. Some hoped for a full-blown Pixies revival, which has yet to happen. Instead, irrepressibly creative leader Charles Thompson (aka Frank Black, aka Black Francis) returns with his latest project, now under the name of Black Francis.

Chameleonic and restless, always handy with a howl, a mixed metaphor, a slashing guitar part and an unexpected twist of chord or word, Thompson/Black/Francis is at it again. His new album is Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl), a feisty and fun outing which should make for a rousing evening of noisy goodness when he plays at SOhO on Saturday.


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