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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony Delivers ‘Classical Knockouts’

It looks to me like the Santa Barbara Symphony is wheeling out the dessert cart for its next pair of concerts — at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Granada Theatre — which will be served up to us under the title "Classical Knockouts."

Dirk Brossé
Belgian composer Dirk Brossé saluted the year 2000 with his Millennium Overture.

Maestro Nir Kabaretti will conduct, with the exciting young violinist Timothy Chooi as guest soloist.

The program for this delectable concert will include the Overture from Gioachino Rossini's opera William Tell (1829); Max Bruch's Concerto No. 1 in G-Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 26 (1868); the Millennium Overture (1999) by Belgian composer Dirk Brossé (born in 1960); Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D-Major, Opus 25 (1917) "Classical"; and the Suite No. 1 from Edvard Grieg's incidental music for Henrik Ibsen's verse drama, Peer Gynt.

When you are listening to the Rossini piece, try your darndest not to hear, in your mind's ear, "Hi-oh-Silver, awayeeeeeeee!"

The Bruch concerto rivals the Felix Mendelssohn for the sheer drama of its opening bars. The music creates a tremendous sense of anticipation, of gathering strength for the leap into the air. Then the anticipation is fulfilled as the soloist flings out what sounds like a great romantic challenge — to fate, to the indifferent universe. He doesn't have to look to see if we are paying attention — we are all hanging on every note. The solo violin is more than a soloist: He or she is a protagonist. It's almost like a new form, which we might call a "scene for violin and orchestra."

Bruch's symphonies are much more formal, more Teutonic (albeit very fine). But his concerted works, including two more violin concerti, one for  (take your pick) two pianos or clarinet/viola and orchestra, and a half-dozen fantasias for cello or violin and orchestra such as the famous "Scottish Fantasy."

"Kol Nidre," or the less familiar but equally gorgeous Adagio on Celtic Themes for Cello and Orchestra. Bruch, like Johannes Brahms, is generally at his best with folk, or quasi-folk, melodies, yet the melodies in this concerto (No. 1) partake more of the grandeur of Giuseppe Verdi, or the pensive sweetness of Mendelssohn. It is the kind of concerto for which the epithet "breathtaking" seems to have been coined.

People say of Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" that "it doesn't really sound like Haydn," but Prokofiev wasn't a forger. The music and melodies are all his, not Haydn's. True, one gets the occasional glimpse of a powdered wig, like walking past an 18th century hunting print on the way down the hall to the water closet, but mid-18th or early 20th, all is graceful irony and arch nostalgia. Completed in 1917, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, deep into the lethal wilderness of World War I, the symphony shows not a trace of all that, and who would have it any other way?

As for Brossé, he divides his compositional energies between the theater (plays and movies) and the concert hall. He is also a conductor of note, and probably knows a great recipe for waffles. His music is romantic, spacious and richly melodic.

Tickets to "Classical Knockouts" are $38 to $133 (prices vary between performance days), and they can be purchased from the Granada Theatre box office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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