Valentine’s Day makes its sweet demands on everyone alike, even the artistic directors of symphony orchestras. Ever the romantic, Santa Barbara Symphony maestro Nir Kabaretti serenaded his Valentine’s Night audience with Mozart and Mendelssohn, and chose as his sweetheart for the evening the violinist Jennifer Koh. Koh has been heard with the S.B. Symphony before, in 2006, when she played a violin concerto by Menotti over at the Arlington. The Granada made a splendid venue for her energetic and beautifully articulated rendering of Felix Mendelssohn’s famous Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor, Op. 64. The mood throughout the evening was festive, with several celebrating couples taking advantage of the Granada’s elegant backdrop to set off their formal attire.
The opening piece, Mendelssohn’s Overture to Athalie, Op. 74, was very short-less than 10 minutes-but served as an effective reminder that there is more to this composer’s overtures than the familiar Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Despite the presence of an excellent soloist, and the happy coincidence of Mendelssohn’s birthday and the St. Valentine’s Day occurring on the same day, the big pink heart of the evening lay in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550. Overflowing with glorious themes and dazzling dramatic shifts in texture, this four-part symphony gave us Mozart at his most poetic. The traditional understanding of the piece’s minor key has been a tragic one, but in the context of Mendelssohn and Valentine’s Day, the mood struck seemed more romantic than classical. A lot of the work’s effectiveness depends on the reeds and horns, and Maestro Kabaretti made his appreciation for their playing clear by calling them out first during the applause.
By comparison, Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, which followed the interval, was relatively compact and bright, despite the key of E Minor. This is some of the most familiar music in the orchestral repertoire, but Koh made it her own with a verve and confidence that was particularly evident in the cadenza, which the composer inserted earlier in the composition than is usual. Koh came back to rapturous applause after the completion of the work, and left all the happy lovers with a delicious morsel of unaccompanied Bach.