Santa Barbara Symphony at the Granada

Program Ranges from the Silver Screen to the Great Plains

Violist Gilad Karni joined the orchestra for its performance of the <em>Viola Concerto</em> of composer Mikl³s R³zsa.

Equal parts Americana and Hollywood glitz, this program continued Maestro Nir Kabaretti’s investigation of the sound qualities of the orchestra and the Granada renovation. The concert opened with Theme and Variations, Op. 42 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold from 1953. Korngold may have had roots in Vienna, but by the time he composed this piece, at the end of a long career in Hollywood, his sensibility ran more to donuts than sachertorte. This is not to say that these confections were not delightful, but a perfect, gentle preamble to the more dramatic works to come.

Mikl³s R³zsa achieved an eminence in Hollywood that few composers could equal. In a tape-recorded interview that was played to the audience before his Viola Concerto, Op. 37, R³zsa described his “double life” as a serious composer and as the author of hundreds of film scores. “When people come to the concert hall, they come for one reason: the music,” R³zsa said, “but when people go to the movies, the go to see Burt Lancaster or Elizabeth Taylor, so music for films must be very direct.” If the wonderful Viola Concerto is any indication, some of Lancaster’s athletic, masculine appeal must have rubbed off on the composer of the score to Ben-Hur. Gilad Karni, the orchestra’s guest soloist, made a feast out of the piece’s four powerful movements, and was particularly good during the impassioned, rustic solo of the “Adagio.”

After the interval, Kabaretti and his musicians embarked on one of the great journeys of the modern repertoire, Anton-n DvoÅ¡k’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World.” So what if he mistakenly heard close parallels between African-American spirituals and Indian music, or took as his inspiration Henry Longfellow’s kitsch epic The Song of Hiawatha; DvoÅ¡k packed this symphony with indisputably great music. It has one of the most powerful openings of any orchestral work, and the finale comes as close to Beethoven in glory and vigor as more recent composers have ever managed to get. The S.B. Symphony winds and horns were magnificent, polished to a bright perfection and capable of whispering, then roaring, along with the demands of the music. The overall effect of this performance was considerably more than the Hollywood glamour of the concert’s first half, and could be heard as a sign that a major American orchestra is now finding its voice in the Granada.


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