The stars still shine on the ceiling of the Arlington, but on Saturday, May 10, the Santa Barbara Symphony shone with them for the last time. The symphony moves to the Granada next season and said goodbye to the Arlington in fine style. The evening began with Beethoven’s bold, heroic Violin Concerto in D Major, played with stunning clarity and sensitivity by Augustin Hadelich, a brilliant young artist from Italy, and the winner of the 2006 International Violin Concerto competition in Indianapolis. Along with $30,000 in prize money, he received a four-year loan of the ex-Gingold Stradivari violin, and together they sounded wonderful. Hadelich has everything working perfectly-his phrasing, intonation, and tone are all stellar-but his sense of interpretation sets him apart from the field. He isn’t there to show off his considerable talent; he wants to tell us something about the work. His performance of the first movement, for instance, gives us the simple, bold main theme with as much nerve as anyone could want, then goes on through the development revealing all its possibilities. The “Larghetto” was moving yet cerebral, and the finale celebrated a heroic return of confidence in the power of music. For an encore, Hadelich played Paganini’s Caprice No. 9 and brought the house to its feet again.
The audience not only responded to Hadelich’s virtuosity but also to Maestro Nir Kabaretti’s careful planning and inspired direction. He recently told me, “My philosophy is that every concert should offer something unique and special-an event not to miss.” He has recently been holding auditions for new players, and the S.B. Symphony is already showing new energy. Kabaretti’s ambition is to create one of the finest orchestras in the country, capable of performing anything in the repetoire. Still, he said, “My biggest challenge as a music director is to increase the interest of classical music in the community, to take the orchestra into new artistic heights and bring the music lovers and supporters of the orchestra the most beautiful and exciting musical experience.”
Kris Khang, who will join the orchestra next year as its assistant principal cellist, shows just how impressive the orchestra’s 12 new members will be. He’s from L.A., where he began playing the cello at 10 years old and completed his undergraduate studies at USC. Last May, he received his master’s degree from Rice University, where he studied with cello legend Lynn Harrell and served as his teaching assistant. He’s had auditions and offers all over the country-but he chose to come to Santa Barbara. “I wanted a switch in approach [from the usual orchestra],” he told me recently. “I wanted to experience the energy and excitement from an audience that you have here. With a new hall, new players, and a great support staff, along with Nir Kabaretti, great changes are coming here.”
One of those new players, Serena McKinney, who will be the assistant concertmaster next year, served as guest concertmaster for the final concert last Saturday, which had a strong second half. The S.B. Symphony’s interpretation of Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration made this dense and difficult tone poem sound bright and new. Maestro Kabaretti carefully led each section through the story of an artist’s pains, dreams, recollections, and finally, his revelations, with each emotional turn of the plot outlined in vivid sound. McKinney’s solos, especially, brought back the artist’s wistful memories of youth in sincere and touching tones.
For the last work the S.B. Symphony would perform in the Arlington, Kabaretti cleverly chose Ravel’s Bolero. This lascivious piece had a strong association with sexuality long before Blake Edwards used it to make Bo Derek famous, and this performance had a deliciously lurid feel. The work is also very strange-a simple melody, begun softly with only pizzicato strings and a snare drum as accompaniment, gradually builds in volume until it takes over the whole orchestra. Changes in instrumentation provide the only interest; otherwise, the melody never changes. Still, it’s utterly compelling as it dares each new instrument to sound even racier than the previous one, all without breaking the gradual line of the crescendo. Kabaretti and the S.B. Symphony caught it exactly right, making it sensual without going over the top until the final cacophony that brings the work to a sudden climax.
But it’s not a one-night stand. At a recent press conference, Maestro Kabaretti announced a magnificent program for next year, which will include the Beethoven Triple Concerto, Mahler’s First Symphony, DvoÅ¡k’s New World Symphony, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and a number of premieres. Kabaretti also announced that his tenure at the Santa Barbara Symphony, which began, he said, with the realization upon arriving at the airport that “this lady in the Jaguar [Gillian Launie, the S.B. Symphony’s president] will soon be my boss,” will continue until 2012. Congratulations to the S.B. Symphony for a magnificent end and a great beginning.