The Santa Barbara Symphony celebrated the conclusion of its 2010-2011 season with a terrific new piece, a pair of familiar ones lovingly played, and a touching farewell to some of its most dedicated members. Avner Dorman’s Lost Souls piano concerto has to be one of the most exciting new pieces of music of any kind played in Santa Barbara this year. The young pianist Alon Goldstein crept to the piano through the orchestra under cover of total darkness and against the backdrop of an eerie drone from the strings. Once there, he kept the audience riveted with a cascade of varying styles and techniques, all harnessed to the piece’s emotional center. At the end, the lights went down again as the pianist lingered, playing an insistent phrase at the very right-most end of the keyboard until he finally exited to a hiding place at the base of the conductor’s podium. The hide-and-seek was all in good fun and part of the work’s thematic development, which had to do with séances and spirits from beyond.
After the intermission, the orchestra returned to a short ceremony marking the extraordinary terms of service of four of its members: Nancy Chase (bass), Alita Rhodes (cello), Lois Helvey (violin), and Geoffrey Rutkowski (principal cellist). All except Rutkowski are retiring after exemplary careers with the S.B. Symphony. Rutkowski will stay on in his section, leaving the principal’s seat to be occupied by a talented newcomer in the 2011-2012 season.
For the final piece of the year, no choice could have been more welcome than the fourth symphony of Johannes Brahms. The orchestra was in great form, taking the work at a slightly faster tempo than the Los Angeles Philharmonic chose to use the weekend before on the composer’s Symphony No. 1.