This thoroughly satisfying program revealed the Santa Barbara Symphony at its strongest, offering both refined, powerful renditions of two important works from the standard repertoire and a West Coast premiere of a sparkling new concerto for clarinet by composer Jonathan Leshnoff, a favorite of maestro Nir Kabaretti’s. The opener, the Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (“Unfinished”) by Franz Schubert, contains some of the most masterful writing in the history of orchestral composition. Even without a full complement of four movements, Schubert’s “Unfinished” makes a bold and paradoxically complete statement. Kabaretti coaxed a relaxed yet deliberate performance from his musicians, and the second movement, in particular, flowed with an inexorable momentum that showed what Schubert was capable of adding to the legacy of Beethoven.
Contemporary composer Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso served as his introduction to the Santa Barbara Symphony when Nir Kabaretti commissioned the work from him for the orchestra’s 60th anniversary season in 2013. In this return engagement, we heard a new composition that was co-commissioned by Santa Barbara and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Clarinet Concerto made an exceptionally good vehicle for the virtuosity of Donald Foster, who romped through the syncopated passages with brio, extending an invitation to the orchestra to join in the jaunty exuberance of Leshnoff’s score.
After intermission, the orchestra returned for Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, a somewhat bombastic effort that concludes with the overly familiar strains of the Fanfare for the Common Man. It’s American music with a bit of a chip on its common shoulder, but the symphony did a marvelous job of bringing it home, and I’m sure that for many it was a highlight.