[Music! Sounds of Santa Barbara] Nir Kabaretti – A Grand Finale for Season 60
By Brett Leigh Dicks, Music! Sounds of Santa Barbara
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When the Santa Barbara Symphony closes out its 60th season this month, with two performances at the Granada Theater on May 18th and 19th, it will do so in grand style. In performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” as its final presentation, the program will afford its esteemed conductor, Nir Kabaretti, the opportunity to highlight his command of both symphonic and operatic repertoires. Mr. Kabaretti joined the Santa Barbara Symphony in 2006 as the orchestra’s Musical Director and two years later also assumed the role of Artistic Director since which he has infused the orchestra with a vibrancy second to none. Born in Israel, Kabaretti began piano lessons at the age of six and later studied piano and conducting at The Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. He continued his education at the prestigious University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Upon his graduation in 1995, Kabaretti began working as coach and chorus master at the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival. He served as personal assistant to Zubin Mehta for a period, who subsequently lauded him as “a conductor with immense musicality and warm personality.” Over the years Kabaretti has collaborated with the likes of Lang Lang, Placido Domingo, Itzhak Perlman and Salvatore Licitra. Never one to rest of his laurels, when the current season of the Santa Barbara Symphony wraps up, he heads to Switzerland for the Festival d’Opéra Avenches, before turning his attention to the next season in Santa Barbara which gets underway in September. At some point, he may even be afforded the opportunity to catch his breath.
You have been with the Santa Barbara Symphony for several seasons now. What initially attracted you to the ensemble?
When I applied to the position in Santa Barbara, I didn’t know much about the ensemble or about the city. The search for the new music director was quite long and when I finally was invited to conduct the orchestra it was a great click right from the beginning.
You became the Music Director in 2006 and Artistic Director in 2008. Perhaps you could differentiate the responsibilities of those two roles?
Both roles are actually related to each other, but, generally speaking, the Music Director is responsible for all the musical aspects related to the orchestra, like building and improving the ensemble, auditioning new people, etc. while the Artistic Director has more a visionary role of leading the organization artistically. That means choosing the repertoire, involve other fields from the art into the music, identifying soloists, commissioning new pieces and things like that.
When you joined the organization, the symphony was performing at the Arlington Theater, but shortly thereafter it moved to the Granada Theater. They are two decidedly different venues – did that exert an influence on the programming at all?
Absolutely! The Arlington is a beautiful theater, but has some acoustic problems. Therefore, certain pieces can’t be played there, simply because they won’t sound as good as they should. I am very happy that we moved to the Granada shortly after and this is a great hall to perform pretty much all kinds of classical music.
And how does the setting influence your role as conductor? Do different rooms have an influence on the playing?
Yes, the room certainly affects the music. In a dryer hall the strings will use the bow more intensively and play with what we call vibrato, while in a room with a huge echo, we often need to play a bit shorter. In my experience in the European big churches it is better to play a little bit slower than in concert halls because of the echo effect.
I believe you initially studied piano. What led you into conducting rather than performing yourself?
Originally I indeed wanted to become a pianist and played many years intensively, but when I started to go to concerts as a teenager I was fascinated by watching the conductors. That was the beginning and then when I was 18 I studied both piano and conducting until at one point I decided to concentrate only on conducting.
You have been a guest conductor with an array of ensembles over the years. What do you look for in collaboration?
Being a guest conductor is really part of the business and I have worked over the years with many different orchestras in different places. I always look for a good musical experience, working with great musicians, performing pieces that I am passionate about and ideally it will be in a nice place…
This month sees you conducting the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa before returning to Santa Barbara. Is creative diversity important to you?
Diversity is very important and it is for sure in my musical DNA. Since the beginning of my career I did symphonic, but also operatic stuff, ballet, choral music, from the baroque to the contemporary music. Speaking of Portugal, I have performed with the Orquestra Metropolitana few times in the past and it has been a great experience. This time I am doing next to a Haydn symphony, three pieces by Portuguese composers, and two of those will be world premieres. It is a project of the Ministry of Culture in Portugal to encourage new Portuguese music.
How does your relationship with your players manifest itself off stage? How much time is spent behind the scenes in rehearsals and preparing players for a performance?
We have four rehearsals for the subscription series, of two and a half hours each. Of course, we are coming prepared to the first rehearsal, in other words everyone practices alone prior to the orchestra sessions and the four rehearsals shape the pieces together.
In your role as Artistic Director, where do you start when crafting a performance schedule for a season?
The program of the season is a puzzle of many components that come together. I start by putting together a wish list of pieces I would like to perform, pieces that I know the orchestra would like to play and pieces that the audience would love to hear. I have an artistic team which helps me in this process and together we chose the best programs for our community.
What considerations are given to the pieces that will be performed in a given program? Last month for example the program included Jonathan Lesnoff’s Concerto Grosso, which was a world premiere, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. Why those three pieces?
When we planned the current season, having in mind that it is a remarkable mile stone, 60 years of making music in this community, my artistic team and I were all in favor of commissioning a new piece especially for the Santa Barbara Symphony. Leshnoff’s piece was written in the old form of concerto grosso, the nature of which showcases the virtuosity of different players. I wanted to combine this American music with some of the American symphonic masterpieces. Both Bernstein and Gershwin’s pieces are not only beautifully written, they are also brilliantly orchestrated and are part of every orchestra’s repertoire.
And this month you are presenting Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection.” It was written for orchestra, mixed choir, two soloists, organ, plus brass and percussion ensembles. Perhaps the grand finale for the season?
Indeed, a grand Finale for our 60th anniversary!
Once your Santa Barbara commitments wrap up, what does the remainder of the year hold in store for you?
After the season end in Santa Barbara I have few days off before heading to Switzerland for an open air production of Verdi’s Nabucco. Rehearsals are in June and the performances go through the 3rd week of July. I will then have some time off to relax, but also to start preparing myself for the next season starting in September.