The Santa Barbara Symphony went a little offbeat Saturday night, but in a good way. It began with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony-not the Third and not the Fifth, but instead the one you may not have heard in concert before. The night ended with percussionist Colin Currie’s spectacular, syncopated finale to the International Percussion Festival, with two works commissioned for him. Full of complex rhythms and interesting sounds, these 21st-century works opened our ears and minds.
Beethoven’s Fourth, which Maestro Nir Kabaretti conducted with his usual grace and precision, might be the most overshadowed symphonic masterpiece in music history. It begins with an interesting adagio with echoes of the overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, then goes into a light, clever allegro vivace reminiscent of Haydn’s late symphonies. Still, it’s all Beethoven and has his characteristic dynamic contrasts and powerful cadences. The adagio and menuetto middle movements show us Beethoven’s capacity for pathos and humor, and the finale is thrilling. Maestro Kabaretti and the S.B. Symphony brought out its wonderfully interesting voices, easily handing off a motif that bounced from the strings to the winds and back again and letting the legato passages sing without slowing things down. In all, hearing it was like discovering Beethoven all over again.
After the intermission, we quickly went forward two centuries with Colin Currie playing Dave Maric’s Trilogy. As its extensive program notes explain, the work was designed from the beginning to use Currie’s own percussion sounds remixed and recorded on a CD; no fully live performance of the work is even possible. The result was a complex-and at times bewildering-duet of inanimate object and talented performer. Although the work was fascinating, it’s still a little strange to have the lines between live and recorded performance blurred to such an extent, at least in this context.
As the Symphony came back onstage, Currie set up his extraordinary range of instruments for Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto. He gave an athletic and artistic performance, moving quickly around the stage to play the marimba, vibraphone, drums, and bongos, along with many other odd and interesting objects. Maestro Kabaretti and the Symphony did more than keep up with him-they imitated and responded, and the concerto’s natural tension between individual virtuosity and collective force resolved into a staccato, yet satisfying, conclusion. Everything landed on the beat after all.