Maestro Nir Kabaretti | Credit: Courtesy

Nir Kabaretti and the Santa Barbara Symphony have engineered a fascinating seven-concert season for 2020-2021 without the benefit of live audiences or the normal rules of orchestral conduct. The season’s penultimate program, a fascinating all-American musical menu in April, may have been the most provocative and satisfying one of all.

I’m not just saying that as a proud American, although I am one. Opening with Aaron Copland’s heraldic brass Fanfare for the Common Man and bookended with the fetching Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman by Joan Tower, the carefully plotted musical mosaic amply invited national cultural pride. Bass-baritone Cedric Berry gave gorgeous, deep readings of selections from Copland’s Old American Songs, followed by a brand-new-ish American composition, George Gianopoulos’s jazz-tinged “Polarity” from his song cycle America.

Samuel Barber was represented not by his over-exposed Adagio, but instead by the sinuous 1953 wind quintet Summer Music. The late African-American composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings brandished its Barber influence openly, as did Robin Frost’s Serenade for Strings.

As Americans, we are by nature ever-questioning, which makes Charles Ives’s brief but profound Unanswered Question something of an alternative national anthem. There it was, toward the end of an intelligent, varied set of music, and perfectly suited to an era where being “distanced” is a literal mandate. Ives’s haunting work is inherently spatial, with an orchestral complement onstage, a wind quartet far from the stage (here, in the Granada Theatre balcony), and in yet another remote location in a hall, a lone, pining trumpet issuing a recurring, plaintive five-note motif (the question? The answer? Both?).

Tune in on Saturday, May 15, for the stirring finale of the Symphony’s season, a program called Triumph honoring the strength, perseverance, hope, creativity, and community that make up the Santa Barbara Symphony family. See

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