[Scene Magazine] A ‘Carmina Burana’-powered launch
Santa Barbara Symphony kicks off the season with a program centered around Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana,' and a collaborative enterprise with local performing arts groups
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
October, traditionally a culturally dense month as various arts groups launch their seasons, has been a big period for Symphonic splashes. Following the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra's recent "Firebird"-themed gala season opener, the Santa Barbara Symphony gets in the game and ups the ante with an ambitious program centered on Carl Orff's epic, sublime and wild "Carmina Burana," in an unusually inter-organizational collaborative show also featuring the State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Chorale Society and guest vocal soloists.
This season, the orchestra's 63rd, will also be the tenth season with maestro Nir Kabaretti at the helm. The Israeli-born conductor, who splits his time between Italy and Santa Barbara and regularly works in Europe, with a specialty in opera, has been a great boon to the symphony since taking over the position from previous conductor, the adventurous Gisele Ben-Dor, in 2006. Under his watch, the symphony made the auspicious move from the Arlington Theatre to the acoustically-superior Granada Theatre.
We recently checked in with the maestro, on the eve of the Orff performance, and his own season number ten.
News-Press: Is there always a feeling of excitement and renewal for you when a new symphony season begins?
Nir Kabaretti: Certainly. Getting together after the summer months and shaping together a new program is always very exciting and refreshing. I should add that the symphony hasn't played the three pieces of this first program for many years, so I guess for all of us it is an extra excitement.
NP: This opening concert is a special occasion, a collaboration with the Chorale Society and the State Street Ballet, as well as the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts. Is this a priority for you, to find ways to integrate and work alongside other arts groups in Santa Barbara, for mutual benefit?
NK: Yes, it is an absolute priority, but even more than that, I see it as our responsibility to the community to collaborate with other arts organization, to the benefit of all of us. Artistically speaking, it is also a niche that is missing in our town.
While Santa Barbara enjoys phenomenal and unique musical offerings by world-famous orchestras and guest artists, the touring orchestras are never joined by choruses, or ballet companies, so I am extremely glad that our patrons and colleagues all see the importance and necessity of this.
NP: Do you view "Carmina Burana" as one of those epic pieces which lends itself to expanded resources and a gala season-opening dimensions?
NK: "Carmina Burana" is a monumental piece, and its grand dimension turns it into a very festive event, especially in its original form that we will perform - a cantata to be sung and danced. So it was a natural choice to open the season with it.
NP: You have shown a skill in presenting a balanced program over the course of a season, satisfying standard repertoire appetites and including some surprises, premieres and other new ideas. Is that an important and delicate balancing act by your artistic standards as a programmer and performer?
NK: This is probably the most challenging part of my role as a conductor and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. Our tickets sales are an important factor of our budget, so obviously the programing needs to be attractive to the concert goers in our community.
It is indeed about balance, as we try to reflect almost 400 years of music history in just seven programs, and include master pieces with some new or unknown works, pieces that the musicians enjoy to play, or others that I am passionate about. I have a wonderful team from our board, management, musicians and some music lovers from the community, and together we build the puzzle of the season's program.
NP: What were some of the highlights and general programming ideas of the coming season?
NK: A program dedicated to music inspired by Shakespeare - collaborating with the Ensemble Theater (Nov. 14 and 15), music that reflects the sounds of the Ocean - Debussy's "La Mer," Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" - (April 9 and 10), an entire evening of Rachmaninoff (Feb. 13 and 14), a Guitar concerto by Elmer Bernstein, a new commissioned piece by an Italian composer, Cristian Carrara, in collaboration with the Toscanini Philharmonic orchestra in Parma, and much more.
NP: On the season's final concert in May, you will perform the Guitar Concerto, a very fine piece written for Christopher Parkening by Elmer Bernstein, who lived in Santa Barbara and had other musical connections with the Santa Barbara Symphony in years past. Is there a kind of local connection with that piece, apart from its musical strengths?
NK: Elmer Bernstein is a fabulous composer mostly known for his films, but he wrote some great symphonic music and we are very proud of the connection he had with our symphony. He is part of our family, and I am delighted to bring to the stage his guitar concerto.
NP: You are now also the music director of the Southwest Florida Symphony, starting last year. How does that orchestra compare with Santa Barbara's, and do you enjoy the combination of directing two orchestras, while doing guest conducting and other projects in the mix of your busy musical life?
NK: The activity in Florida is a bit different. The musical season is shorter, and more designated to the "snow birds" period. The orchestra has established pops series and chamber orchestra programs, reaching out to other communities. In fact, this season we perform in 6 different venues in Florida.
Logistically, it is becoming more and more difficult to synchronize my dates between the two coasts, and for that reason I need to reduce some of my European engagements.
NP: Speaking of Europe, and elsewhere, what do you have coming up that you look forward to?
NK: I am excited about my debut in Taiwan, touring with the National Symphony Orchestra, returning to Switzerland with "Madame Butterfly," and to Rome with a production of "Swan Lake" at the Rome Opera.
NP: You are now entering your tenth year as maestro with the Santa Barbara Symphony. Do you have reflections on the adventure so far, and how has the experience measured up against your expectations back when you started here?
NK: It is a beautiful musical journey for me, and making music with such wonderful musicians is truly a joy. Over these years we held hundreds of auditions, and there is a high percentage of new people graduated from the best schools in the country who strengthened the orchestra enormously. With the move to The Granada, the overall experience is very satisfying, and certainly matches my expectation.