Composer Adam Leshnoff | Credit: Courtesy

It can be a sign of institutional health and grounding when an orchestra can both call upon surefire crowd-pleasers of old, while also dipping into its own personal stash of house-made music. Such is the scenario with this weekend’s season finale for the Santa Barbara Symphony’s (SBS) program, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, May 13-14, at The Granada Theatre. From the standard book comes Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto (with worldly wise Philippe Quint as soloist) and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 to close the evening and the 2022-23 season.

As a ripe opening strategy, the concert — dubbed Platinum Sounds in honor of the orchestra’s current 70th anniversary — kicks off with something more closely aligned with SBS’s history, Jonathan Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso. The piece, built to last and to show off the orchestra, was an SBS commission that premiered a decade back, timed with the orchestra’s 60th birthday. Leshnoff wrote in a conscientiously Baroque style, with an intention to showcase various orchestral players.

The Concerto Grosso stands as one of many works — including a co-commission of Leshnoff’s Clarinet Concerto in 2017 — now proudly bearing local heritage in the orchestral library and commissioned by the Symphony under the watch of current maestro Nir Kabaretti, who took charge in 2006. In an interview, Leshnoff spoke of his connection with Kabaretti, “We are on the same musical wavelength in addition to sharing aesthetic goals, and he’s a great friend of mine.”

In the subsequent decade, Leshnoff has built up a repertoire of more than 80 works and gone on to various acclaim, including a 2019 Grammy nomination for the Nashville Symphony album of his music.

“My role as a composer is to be a conduit, to take people on a journey. Where people go on this journey inside their own soul, to a dark place, a happy place, a fond memory — that’s up to them,” said Leshnoff. “But as long as I take people somewhere, I know that I’ve done my job as a composer.”

Introducing the 70th SBS season last fall, Kabaretti acknowledged a certain poetic logic to ending the official season-closer with Brahms’s first symphony. “It took [Brahms] years to write his first symphony,” the conductor noted. “It was not an easy birth. It took him years to understand what he wanted, especially because Beethoven was his hero.

“And it, by the way, I think it reflects what we all as organizations go through. In this orchestra’s 70 years, there were rough times sometimes, but it goes on.” Kabaretti offered up his concept that “the glorious sounds of the Brahms would be a perfect ending of this anniversary, on the classical side.”

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