Symphonic/Choral Splendor Opens Santa Barbara Symphony Season with ‘Carmina Burana’

Santa Barbara Symphony Kicks off 70th Anniversary Season at The Granada Theatre

Credit: David Bazemore

Composer Carl Orff did the classical music’s standard repertory a big favor by creating the unique and artfully noisy work Carmina Burana in 1936. Drawn from an esoteric 11th-century liturgical source discovered in a monastery in the 19th century, the Bavarian composer’s resulting score for orchestra and chorus is by turns lyrical, sublime, primal, brusquely melodic, and occasionally naughty. In this piece, the sacred meets the profane, and they dance, in a zone somewhere between control and abandon.

As such, Carmina is suitable for spicing up any orchestral season or for making an impactful impression as a season opener, its function when the Santa Barbara Symphony (SBS) opens its 70th anniversary season this weekend at The Granada Theatre.

SBS is reprising the Carmina Burana opening strategy of its 2015-16 season. Seven years ago, and this weekend, the prevailing idea has been to transform the concert into a collaborative event, sporting choreography by State Street Ballet’s William Soleau and the gathered choral resources of the S.B. Choral Society. Added vocal heft will come from the acclaimed choral group Quire of Voyces and, from the younger contingent of aspiring musicians, the Music Academy’s Sing! children’s chorus.

Credit: David Bazemore

Last month at the Lobero Theatre, maestro Nir Kabaretti and guests offered up a public season preview overview. The ongoing tradition is an inviting and culturally affirming event on the Symphony’s calendar and included relevant musical snippets by a string quartet this time out.

Kabaretti announced that he would be talking about the “concept of the season” in this 70th anniversary and would be “talking about our musical DNA. One of the things that’s really important for us is the collaborative efforts in our own community.” By his rough computation, the combined forces of musicians young and old and the dancers involved in the performance will add up to about 170 performers onstage. That number would have satisfied the epic-minded Orff, who envisioned his most famous piece as a “scenic cantata,” which would include dancers and added sensory input and output.

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Kabaretti stressed that the SBS powers wanted to honor “the original intent of the composer, who wrote this is music to be played, sung, and danced.” The fuller version is, he said, “is not often played, because it’s very complicated to bring the synchronized dance along with the orchestra. And not every city has a professional dance company, but this is something that we are so thrilled to do, and we are thrilled to have the choreography of Bill Soleau and the State Street Ballet.”

Dancer Leila Drake Fossek joined the stage to speak from the dance perspective and admitted, “It’s the music that drew me to dancing. It’s grounded, earthy, visceral, and contemporary.”

Credit: David Bazemore

Actually, Soleau is on double duty this weekend, also presenting the world premiere of choreography for the program’s opening piece, Gabriel Faure’s Pavane. Another blast of French music rounds out the program, with Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Bacchanale” from the opera Samson and Delilah

SBS at 70 involves a varied season of nine classical concert programs between now and May, with a special Sinatra evening next June. Among the highlights are world premieres by jazz notable Ted Nash, Cody Westheimer, and a new arrangement of the late film music icon (and Santa Barbaran) Elmer Bernstein’s music by his son Peter, loads of staple repertoire and, for populism’s sake, a multimedia night devoted to Hollywood’s music man John Williams. Orff kicks it all off, with a familiar bang.

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