What can you say about a week that includes not only the largest classical music event in the history of Santa Barbara, but also two other ravishing concerts featuring stars from the New York Philharmonic, and an appearance by Renée Fleming? And did I mention the fireworks?
Monday’s Community Concert was the most ambitious public celebration I’ve seen yet in our relentlessly festive city. Seven thousand people showed up for the sold-out performance at La Playa Stadium, and many more heard the music and saw the fireworks that were launched after the New York Philharmonic finished playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. While technical issues with the sound and ambient noise caused some distraction during the performance, both the Academy Festival Orchestra and the mighty New York Phil showed that they can take on any size audience indoors or out.
The next night, soprano Susanna Phillips, fresh off her brilliant performance in the Ninth, turned up at the Lobero to sing Franz Schubert’s Auf dem Strom, D. 943, Op. 119. The haunting trio featured Julie Landsman on horn and Warren Jones on piano. It’s a setting of a poem that describes a lovelorn departure and ends with the narrator far out to sea, an interesting juxtaposition with the previous evening’s harborside setting. Another piece on the program, Tides and Currents by Timo Andres, also picked up on the marine theme, but to a distinctly different effect. Pairing two pianists and two percussionists, Andres drew a kaleidoscope of effects from the combination.
In a week like this one, and with so many memorable moments already packed into this summer’s busy season, the final concert of the Academy Festival Orchestra still managed to astonish. Fleming was splendid in what is clearly her favorite recital piece, the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, and she graced the rapt audience with another pair of Strauss songs as an encore at the end of the first half.
The second belonged to the orchestra and to Alan Gilbert, who led a fiery rendition of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, a perfect send-off to a wonderful artist and to a week that began with Beethoven.