[Casa Magazine] American Masterpieces
By Daniel Kepl
Link to article
Nir Kabaretti is in his 7th season as Music and Artistic Director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. this year is the orchestra’s 60th anniversary as well, and in honor of the occasion American composer Jonathan Leshnoff was commissioned to compose a new work, Concerto Grosso in the Baroque Style, featuring several principal members of the ensemble.
The Santa Barbara Symphony is Kabaretti’s first American gig, and the creative collaboration has been more than a one-way artistic conversation. While the orchestra has grown by several leagues as a result of Israeli born, Italy-based (Florence/Rome) maestro’s leadership, our musicians, many of whom work in the fast lane of Hollywood films, have contributed not a little to Kabaretti’s American aesthetic.
The program opened with the wonderfully accessible, leggy world premiere. In four didactic movements, the piece jousts multiple soloists against the larger orchestra windmill. The first movement pitted Guest Concertmaster Tereza Stanislav and Principal Second Violin Elizabeth Hedman against the orchestra. In the second movement, a quartet of soloists including cellist Trevor Handy, horn James Thacher, John Lewis trumpet and Andrew Malloy, trombone exchange light banter, while ignoring the clamorous orchestral fussing.
The third movement of the Concerto Grosso was for principal winds: flute Francine Jacobs, oboe Lara Wickes, clarinet Alicia Lee, bassoon Andy Radford, with charming obbligato harpsichord riffs performed by Natasha Kislenko, the orchestra’s resident pianist. The last movement of the new piece brought all the soloists front-and-center for a jolly exchange of dance cards. Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso will undoubtedly be recorded soon. Perhaps the Santa Barbara Symphony can be a part of that project?
Saturday’s “American Masterpieces” concert at the Granada Theatre felt very much like home, as Kabaretti conducted from memory Leonard Bernstein’s sinuous and searing Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The music, rutting and dark, ferociously territorial, and also exquisitely heartbreaking, is American post-Atomic musical dramaturgy writ large, with accessory nods to Shakespeare, liberation politics, and the Reuben sandwich.
Kabaretti and his orchestral colleagues assayed the now famous fingering clicking and Mambo! in the score with cliche defying aplomb. Brass and wind solos, complex chamber ensemble sets, perfectly nuanced and colorful percussion salvos, and explosive orchestral tutti sections jumped off the written page with throttling impact, reminiscent of dinner with Edward Albee’s Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf: a taught, superbly articulate performance.
Pianist Xiayin Wang is apparently a kindred spirit of George Gershwin. She tackled, with the technical virtuosity and spontaneous combustion of a Valkyrie, the composer’s monumental Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra. In three episodic movements, the work is a musical cornerstone from a time when jazz was the happy opiate of the American proletariat.
With consummate taste, Maestro Kabaretti devoted the entire second half of the program to this single American masterpiece, attending to each detail and inflection of Ms. Wang’s interpretation with care and empathy. While the Concerto is a chock-a-block with fun jazz riffs, particularly for solo trumpet, Gershwin’s deeper, meditative soul informs the slow middle movement, which was played with profound poignancy by the pianist. As encore, Ms. Wang demonstrated a given: I Got Rhythm.