No better opportunity has come along thus far to mark the development of the Santa Barbara Symphony under the direction of Nir Kabaretti than this concert. The program featured two of his highest profile recruits: principal concertmaster Caroline Campbell and assistant concertmaster Serena McKinney. The presence of these two outstanding musicians both as soloists in this concert and as leaders in the orchestra indicates a commitment on Kabaretti’s part to the development of a new generation of musicians not only as performers but also as intellectuals with an influence on the direction of the organization.
The initial selection, the Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Harpsichord in D Minor, BWV 1043 of Johann Sebastian Bach, made a good showcase for Campbell and McKinney, who are great fun to observe in this kind of small-group setting. Still, baroque chamber music, even when it is as great as this, may not be the ideal type of material for the Santa Barbara Symphony right now, and it will be interesting to see if they grow into more expressive and fiery interpreters of such works. With the Introduction & Allegro for Strings, Op. 47 of Edward Elgar, the orchestra moved toward its strength without completely arriving there. The piece was beautiful, but at times the interpretation felt a bit rushed.
After the intermission, all was forgiven, as the full orchestra took the stage and tore into Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55. This rendition was absolutely splendid, with special credit going to the horns, who kept the percussive effects of the “Scherzo” both under control and clearly audible, making the entire room resound with Beethoven’s awesome and complex writing for brass. The level to which Kabaretti has brought the group in its performances of such canonical symphonies, as well as the intelligent and challenging programming of the smaller ensembles, both bode well for the future of this now young and vibrant orchestra.