[Scene Magazine] Ode to a Musical Monument, and a New Season
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
To open its 64th season the Santa Barbara Symphony calls on the heroic sweep of Beethoven's iconic Ninth Symphony, abetted and fleshed out by several local choral groups
The Symphony is back in town. Lest there be anyquestion about that, note the big, bold, Beethoven-ian opening splash at the Granada Theatre this weekend, as the Santa Barbara Symphony kicks off its 64th season. Joining the orchestral forces, with maestro Nir Kabaretti now entering his 11th season at the helm, is a wealth of voices to amp up the "Ode to Joy" component of the masterwork--a massive choral conglomerate made up of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Quire of Voyces, and choirs from Westmont, UCSB and San Marcos High School.
As testament to the historical continuity of the Symphony, this weekend's mezzo-soprano soloist Nina Yoshida Nelsen traces her musical training to roots in the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony. She met and married her husband (horn player Jeff Nelsen who is performing this weekend) in Santa Barbara.
On a concert bill opening with Christopher Rouse's Rapture, this weekend's program makes for a suitable grand entrance to the 2016-17 season.
Highlights of that season include a double piano concerto program in November, "Disney Fantasia Live in Concert" (January 28 and 29), and later next year, pairings of Vivaldi and Piazzolla and Grieg and Sibelius and a nod to Paris to close, in May.
In an interview this week, Mr. Kabaretti discussed the season-opening salvo, and the bigger picture of an orchestra which has grown deeper and stronger under his watch.
News-Press: As you did last year with "Carmina Burana," you are starting off the season with a grand sweep, this time courtesy of Beethoven's Ninth. This is such a towering work in the symphonic canon. Is there a sense of awe and also rediscovery each time you perform it? And how many times would you say you have conducted it by this point?
Nir Kabaretti: This is my fourth take on Beethoven Ninth Symphony, and it is as challenging and exciting as if it was the first time. There are always some new details that one finds, new meanings, but on the top of that there is a certain responsibility of leading a performance of one of the landmarks of the symphonic world--actually, one of the treasures of the western culture. I believe every musician stands humble and with a huge respect in front of such a monument.
NP: This is also a good opportunity for you to collaborate with musicians--chorally speaking--from various groups in Santa Barbara. Does that satisfy a certain desire to extend the symphony out into the area's larger musical landscape?
NK: My vision about this specific performance was to bring together different choruses who work in town, to collaborate for the first time. IIt is a fantastic combination of singers from all ages representing different institutes of our community, and the vocal restult is absolutely wonderful. I am extremely happy that the symphony can be in the center link to bring all these organizations work together.
NP: You celebrated your tenth year as music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony last season. Do you have a sense of moving forward into a next historical chapter with the orchestra in this new season?
NK: Ibelieve that the future of our symphony is to continue deepening our roots in the community. The fact that we have on stage this weekend high school and college students (singing in the chorus) is a part of that, as well as the collaborations we do with State Street Ballet, or Ensemble Theatre, etc.
If we can extend this to other levels of collaborations, then yes, we will be able to talk about a historical chapter.
NP: In addition to the Santa Barbara Symphony, you are busy in Europe and elsewhere. What other projects do you have coming up this season, beyond the 805?
NK: Besides my commitment in Florida (as music director of the Southwest Florida Symphony, since 2014) with nine programs this season, I will work for two months at the opera house in Rome, and this season brings me alos to Montreal and Quebec for New Year's eve concerts, Kalamazoo, Mich., the Indiana University and some projects in Israel.
NP: Did you have any particular conceptual guidelines or objectives in putting together the upcoming symphony season? What are some of the highlights of the season, in your mind?
NK: Putting a season together is like creating a puzzle from many different pieces representing the diversity in sytles and periods of the western music history. Next to the masterpeices that are the musical heritage of the greatest composers, we try to explore together with our audience some lesser known pieces, and to continue what I said before. Then the guideline is also to do things that are designed for this community.
The Beethoven Ninth collaboration, the Disney's "Fantasia" multi-media concert, the commission with the Philadelphia Orchestra are certainly part of this thinking.
NP: In terms of new music, you have February's west coast premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff's Clarinet Concerto, co-commissioned with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Is that idea of collaborating with other orchestras something you plan to continue in the future?
NK: Absolutely. I believe it is an important part of our mission to present contemporary American music, and collaborating with one of the finest orchestras in the USA and the world is literally a dream.
NP: What would you say you have seen change or evolve in the orchestra in your time here, and what would you like to see happen in the future?
NK: A lot has been changed. Musically, we strengthened our lines with massive auditions over the last 10 years, and have today a very strong roster of excellent musicians. With the opening of the renewed Granada, our invidiual and ensemble playing got the chance to shine much more, and also allows us to program some more intimate pieces. Our office grew, and we employ very experienced and professional staff which directly influences our artistic product.