When the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra ceased operation in 2017, the remaining funds held by the organization’s 501(c)(3) were entrusted to the Lobero Theatre Foundation with the understanding that they would eventually be used to continue the orchestra’s work in presenting great music under the direction of maestro Heiichiro Ohyama. Ohyama, who lead the Chamber Orchestra from 1983 to 2017, will return to Santa Barbara this winter to inaugurate a new Chamber Music Project on behalf of the Lobero. The three concerts are scheduled to straddle the period during which the Santa Barbara International Film Festival occupies the theater, with the first occurring on Saturday, January 4, and the next two taking place Saturday-Sunday, February 8-9.
In addition to conducting orchestras of all sizes and organizing chamber music festivals — Ohyama founded the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest and has directed the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival — the maestro enjoys an international reputation as a violist. For the upcoming series at the Lobero, he has chosen a core group of musicians whom he knows as fellow players and whom he characterizes as “champions of the tradition.” The January 4 concert is a duo recital featuring Alessio Bax, the pianist who was one of the most popular soloists in the history of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. He will be joined by the violinist Benjamin Beilman, an American musician who studied at the Curtis Institute with Pamela Frank and Ida Kavafian. The program includes sonatas for violin and piano by Bach, Busoni, and Grieg. Bax, who will be coming off a fall tour with Joshua Bell, should bring out the fire in this outstanding young musician.
When the Project resumes in February, the lineup will expand to a quintet for what is sure to be a memorable pair of concerts. Beilman returns, now joined by an all-star group the experience of which spans multiple generations — Louis Schwizgebel, piano; Clive Greensmith, cello; Ida Kavafian, violin; and Heiichiro Ohyama, viola. On Saturday, a pair of great piano quartets by Beethoven and Brahms flank the Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56 of Sergei Prokofiev. On Sunday, after works by Beethoven and Kodály, the Project will come to a grand conclusion with the Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34 of Johannes Brahms.
This is all very good news for those who care about the musical culture of Santa Barbara. While it’s true that we enjoy a remarkably rich set of offerings thanks to CAMA, the Music Academy of the West, the Santa Barbara Symphony, UCSB Arts & Lectures, Camerata Pacifica, and the Santa Barbara Music Club, the relationship that maestro Ohyama forged with audiences through his decades of programming at the Lobero is unique, and this opportunity represents a well-formulated new chapter in that story. He said that he feels honored to be returning with what he called “a dream cast” of musicians.
As with the Chamber Orchestra, which served as an important step in the career paths of many great musicians and concertmasters, these programs will no doubt create intense bonds among the players and with the audience. Chamber music at this level thrives on the excitement that comes when players like Kavafian take the stage alongside their top students. When Kavafian meets Beilman for the Prokofiev sonata for two violins, the music will reflect centuries of direct influence as handed down in person by great teachers who are also top musicians.
4•1•1 | The Lobero Theatre Chamber Music Project will take place on Saturday, January 4, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, February 8, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 9, at 4 p.m. See lobero.org or call (805) 963-0761.