Review | Santa Barbara Symphony Riffs on Gershwin

Season Finale Fills the Granada With Joyful Jazz

Marcus Roberts Trio took the town by storm, playing with Santa Barbara Symphony at The Granada Theatre and in a Jazz at the Lobero presentation. | Credit: Courtesy

For its season finale, the Santa Barbara Symphony delivered a robust performance of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, before joining forces with the Marcus Roberts Trio for George Gershwin’s Concerto in F. The jazz trio — Jason Marsalis at percussion, Rodney Jordan with the bass, and Marcus Roberts, scintillating at the piano — exemplified one-half of a marriage between liquid virtuosity and the orchestra’s own burnished majesty. This particular rendition concerto arrangement featured the bass and percussion prominently alongside the piano soloist. All three performances shone on their own, while reinforcing each other and merging seamlessly with the orchestra whenever it burst forward. Marsalis’s percussion provided additional impact, and Jordan’s confident strumming bled some languid pulsation into Roberts’s vigorous style.         

Led by its music and artistic director Nir Kabaretti, the Santa Barbara Symphony demonstrated textural versatility in its performance of Price’s Symphony, the first by an African-American woman to be performed by a major American orchestra. Kabaretti drew out of the score both spiritual lightness and urgent vitality, the strings shimmering alongside an explosive brass section throughout the first two movements. In the third movement — the “Juba Dance” — Price wrote the instruments to evoke bodily percussion, a task in which the orchestra succeeded with sprightly confidence. Both Price and Gershwin provided ample opportunity for different instrumental sections to exhibit their artistry alone; the trumpets in the Concerto’s elegant second movement were particularly soulful. Kabaretti finished with a blazing interpretation of its third movement, to a commensurate response by the nearly full theater. But the show was not over; Roberts had the final word. “Some people say that classical music is too complicated. I just want to ask them: What kind of life are you living? Is it not complicated?”

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