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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts


Gerald Carpenter: Hélène Grimaud, Santa Barbara Symphony Play Soundtrack of Romance

The dazzling pianist Hélène Grimaud will play Brahms in two weekend performances with the Santa Barbara Symphony.
The dazzling pianist Hélène Grimaud will play Brahms in two weekend performances with the Santa Barbara Symphony.  ( photo)

By Gerald Carpenter, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

This being the season of St. Valentine, the Santa Barbara Symphony will offer its “Salute to Love” at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at The Granada Theatre. Maestro Nir Kabaretti will conduct, with the pianist, Hélène Grimaud, who is rapidly becoming a Santa Barbara favorite, on hand as soloist.

The hyper-romantic program is comprised of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in d-minor, Opus 15; the Suite No. 2 from Maurice Ravel’s ballet. Daphnis and Chloe (1909–1912); Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Overture-Fantasy” Romeo and Juliet (1870); and Edward Elgar’s Salut DAmor.

If ever a program sold itself, it is this one. All music lovers are romantics at heart, and this is as romantic a collection of pieces as could be imagined. I have only a couple of observations to make.

The Brahms concerto is just about the most passionate music he ever wrote. Because he was young (25) and had not yet become obsessed with form, logic and symmetry, the passion sounds all but unrestrained. It is somewhat restrained, of course, since Brahms was uncomfortable with complete spontaneity, and, as would prove to be his modus operandi, he worked on the piece over a period of four years.

He began to sketch the first movement (he thought it would be a symphony) shortly after his beloved mentor, Robert Schumann, attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine. He decided he wasn’t ready to write a symphony, and determined to write a two-piano sonata. This didn’t work either, and he settled on a piano concerto, which was premiered, with the composer as soloist, on Jan. 22, 1859, in Hanover. The first performance doesn’t seem to have created much of a stir. The second performance, five days later in Leipzig, created a stir of the wrong kind: the audience hissed and the critics hated it, calling it “perfectly unorthodox, banal and horrid.”

“I am only experimenting and feeling my way,” Brahms wrote to Joseph Joachim, “all the same, the hissing was rather too much.”

Elgar is famous for his two large, majestic symphonies, his concertos for violin and cello, and his even larger choral works such as The Dream of Gerontius. The Salut D’Amor reminds us, with exquisite tact, that Elgar also composed quite a number of delicious shorter pieces.

Tickets to the Santa Barbara Symphony range from $29 to $133. Click here to purchase tickets online, or call The Granada Box Office at 805.899.2222.

— 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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