Occasionally someone will ask me what makes Santa Barbara special when it comes to culture. A responsible answer would take hours, and the person asking is not ordinarily in the mood for a lecture — they want a soundbite. My standard response goes like this: “In Santa Barbara, we see the same artists as in New York or Los Angeles, but we sit closer, we pay less for our tickets, and we don’t drive far or sit in traffic to reach the show.” That usually does the trick.
As a case in point, take the Leila Josefowicz recital with pianist John Novacek that UCSB Arts & Lectures will present at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall on November 8. Josefowicz can make a strong claim to being the most influential performer of premieres in classical music today. In an era marked by a proliferation of great new compositions, she stands apart as the go-to violinist for major composers. Those who write significant, challenging music for violin and orchestra require a soloist who is capable not only of learning and performing fiendishly difficult parts, but of commanding a stage, competing sonically with a first-rate orchestra, and delivering the emotional content of the piece. For big-time composers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Adams, and most recently, Luca Francesconi, Josefowicz is that performer. Last week, she played the U.S. premiere of Francesconi’s Duende – The Dark Notes at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And this week, to return to my premise, she’s in Santa Barbara for a violin and piano recital at the Music Academy of the West’s ultra-luxurious jewel-box venue, Hahn Hall.
There’s no doubt that these Disney Hall orchestral concerts involve impressive programs. Josefowicz has really taken to Francesconi’s 29-minute piece, which she world-premiered with Susanna Mälkki and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stockholm in 2014, and which the L.A. Phil website describes as “hallucinogenic.” After all, when she played Adams’s potent feminist anthem Scheherezade.2 with the Chicago Philharmonic in March under the baton of Salonen, the reception was ecstatic. The Chicago Tribune’s classical critic John von Rhein wrote that “Josefowicz played the long, challenging solo part from memory and did so with a ferocious technical command and commitment that are uniquely hers.”
So, yes, it will be very much worth the time and effort it takes to get from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. on a Friday or Saturday at 7 p.m., but as for me, I’ll take my commute from San Roque to Montecito any day, and I’ll also stand by the recital program that Josefowicz will perform for Arts & Lectures, which includes Sergei Prokofiev’s magnificent (and dark) Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80 along with extravagant and rarely heard pieces by Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Kaija Saariaho.
The concert kicks off A&L’s Up Close & Musical series for the 2017-18 season, a group of four adventurous shows all scheduled for Hahn Hall. Next up is Korean superstar pianist Seong-Jin Cho on Tuesday, November 14, followed by the Calidore String Quartet on February 11, 2018, and the ravishing young soprano Julia Bullock accompanied by pianist John Arida on April 3, 2018. If you make it out to any one of these shows — and you should go to all of them — be sure to thank the Up Close & Musical series sponsor, Dr. Bob Weinman. In his bright-red Converse and loud-print trousers, he’s easy to spot. You might also see Weinman in Disney Hall from time to time, as well, but why drive all the way down there just to get what we’ve got right here? —Charles Donelan
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Leila Josefowicz with pianist John Novacek at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd.) on Wednesday, November 8, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.