In the midst of all the justifiable excitement over the upcoming move from the Arlington to the Granada, it would be a pity to lose sight of the most compelling musical storyline currently involving the Santa Barbara Symphony: the accession to power of new maestro Nir Kabaretti. Although he conducted most of last season’s concerts, the 2006-2007 programs were mostly set before he arrived. Therefore, this season is the one in which we shall finally have our chance to really assess the new man in charge. Kabaretti is of course aware of this, and in the first concert of the season he came out determined to make his mark.
The opener was the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. Written during World War II out of a nostalgic yearning for his boyhood home on the coast of Suffolk, the Interludes are full of clever, modern writing for winds and brass. The orchestra responded to the many twists, turns, and crescendos in this oceanic piece with alacrity.
Soloist Shai Wosner brought tremendous focus and delicacy to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58. This is Beethoven at his middle period best, and the call and response between the orchestra and the piano is never less than thrilling. For those who had heard Andr¡s Schiff play middle-period Beethoven the night before at the Lobero, this was one of those wonderful, only in Santa Barbara-or New York or London-moments when it became possible to evaluate two entirely successful performances of comparable music within the space of 24 hours. Schiff may have come out ahead on points, but Wosner remains a serious contender, particularly given the significant constraints placed on orchestral rehearsals.
Kabaretti’s turn to shine came after the interval with the orchestra’s performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68. Already one of the most beloved symphonies in the repertoire due to its gorgeous, fascinating transformation of Beethoven’s Ninth, this work was rendered irresistible by what was, to these ears, the best single performance given by the symphony thus far under Kabaretti’s direction. Everything worked, from the thrilling tympanis of the first movement to the glorious trombone chorale of the coda.