Philippe Quint | Credit: Courtesy

As critical as newly commissioned works and premieres are to the survival of the classical music species, second and subsequent performances are also deeply important. Too often, the eager fanfare of a premiere is followed by a long life in the dusty archives of obscurity or institutional memory.

Thus, there was a welcome return to stage life when the Santa Barbara Symphony performed Jonathan Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso at The Granada Theatre last weekend, giving the audience a second encounter with a piece commissioned a decade ago, on the occasion of the symphony’s 60th anniversary. On the program, Leshnoff’s affable concerto concoction — showcasing 11 (count ‘em) soloists from the orchestra’s gifted ranks — got along nicely with earwormy crowd favorites from Mendelssohn (with superb violinist Philippe Quint as soloist on the Violin Concerto in E minor) and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1.

Bearing the summing-up title Platinum Sounds: The Symphony Turns 70, the concert menu added up to a satisfying light meal of a season closer. (There is one more, non-classical add-on concert, An Evening with Sinatra, at the Granada on June 15). 

On the Leshnoff work, conductor Nir Kabaretti led the orchestral charges with his usual sturdy flair, and, due to the nature of this unusual piece, shared the front-of-stage real estate with a parade of music stands and soloists shuffling in and out. While Kabaretti guided the ensemble, Leshnoff’s genial, soft-sell contemporary score dictated the featured musicians’ onstage traffic and passed the soloist spotlights judiciously.

If Leshnoff’s multitasking concerto lacks a cohesive identity — a thematic “there there,” so to speak — the opus manages to serve other purposes. For one, it functions as a kind of entertaining “young person’s guide to orchestral instruments not normally seen up front,” getting their spotlight due. For another, it’s a breezy, celebratory piece which suits the party atmosphere of an orchestra’s anniversary season — in this case, the 60th and now the 70th. Will we hear it in the 80th?

On the Mendelssohn, Quint dove assuredly into the ultra-familiar strains of the opening theme and rose to the score’s challenges and varying heat level of pyrotechnics and romantic gymnastics. Pining spirits in the first and second movements give way to the calm, then brisk, buoyant spirits of its finale, in an emphatically major key.

Finally, on this night and in this season, the orchestra itself took the expanded spotlight for Brahms’s First, a warm gust of a romantic chestnut, with its infectious and anthemic melody leading to its requisite heroic finish.

As a prelude to the Brahms, Kabaretti toasted the orchestra he took charge of in 2006, mentioning that its first concert was in 1953 and that one long-standing member, double bassist Nancy Chase, actually performed on that inaugural concert and was in the house. A stand-and-bow moment was well in order.

So ended season 70, a memorable and enjoyably diverse season. It featured a few world premieres, a pop-populist-popcorn music evening of John Williams’s music (the debate continues on whether that should have been programmed as a separate pops concert), a toast to Beethoven (their take on the Fourth Symphony may be my personal highlight of the season) and an overall, ongoing sense of strength and continuity from “our symphony.” It’s a polished ensemble to admire, take pride in, and continue lending our ear and support.


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