The Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, under the baton of music director Andy Radford, will play its Winter Concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road in Santa Barbara.
The Youth Symphony program, which features a solo by the gifted young cellist, Vincent Chen, includes Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), Opus 26; Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No. 9 in Bb-Major, G. 482 (with Chen); Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 in D-Major/d-minor, Opus 107, “The Reformation”; and the Overture to Jacques Offenbach’s opera, Orpheus in the Underworld (1858).
Nothing is more appropriate than that a young orchestra should play Mendelssohn. He died young (38), of course but there is more to it than that — I am sure, in fact, that to most of this orchestra, 38 seems impossibly ancient. Mozart only saw 35, and yet, when he was 5, he was composing works that in no way could be considered “immature,” or even “youthful.” He always seemed to be channeling some strain of the universal tunes that is beyond time or age. Mendelssohn, on the other hand, while even his earliest works have uncanny polish, retained a spirit of ebullient youth throughout his life.
Like Benjamin D’Israeli’s father, Mendelssohn’s father quarreled with his rabbi and had his children baptized as Lutherans. While it made no difference in how he thought about himself — when he arranged for the first performance since Bach’s death of the Saint Matthew Passion, Felix said, “It is an actor and a young Jew who are restoring to Europe it’s greatest Christian music” — the baptism opened up career paths and social opportunities that would have been totally closed to non-Christians.
When the city fathers of Augsburg wanted a symphony to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, a signal event of the Protestant Reformation, they commissioned Mendelssohn to write it — which they certainly would not have done had he not been a Lutheran himself.
Although illness intervened, and the composer didn’t have the work done in time for the celebration, it is a perfect realization of the idea of a “Protestant” symphony. He uses several hymns for his thematic material, including “A Mighty Fortress,” composed by Martin Luther. The “No. 5” designation and the high opus number were both assigned after Mendelssohn’s death. In fact, it was his second symphony, written when he was 20. The composer didn’t regard the work very highly; he dismissed it as “juvenilia” — which it is not, but that would not disqualify it from being played by this orchestra, which will no doubt give an enthusiastic account of this rousing score.
Tickets to this concert are $14 general and $10 for seniors and students. They can be purchased at the door.