The upcoming brace of concerts by the Santa Barbara Symphony — at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in The Granada Theatre — has been dubbed “American Masterpieces” by conductor Nir Kabaretti, and he has enlisted the artistry of exquisite pianist Xiayin Wang to serve as guest soloist for the occasion.
As you must have guessed, the program is confined to works by American composers — three of them — including the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso (commissioned by the Santa Barbara Symphony and featuring several first-chair solos); Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”; and George Gershwin’s Concerto in F-Major for Piano and Orchestra (with Wang).
Leshnoff’s music is romantic, that much can be said without controversy. His romanticism is not of the heart-on-sleeve variety, however, but feels tentative and introspective. He is a genius of moods and atmosphere. I’ll stop there, not wanting to place any restrictions on what you may imagine his Concerto Grosso will sound like — I have no more idea than you do, since none of us has heard it yet.
In a few short years, one notes, Leshnoff’s music has compiled an enviable amount of good press — all of it deserved, I must say.
As for the rest of the program, I am devoted to both Bernstein and Gershwin, yet I can’t help but regard the selections as a non-American’s slightly patronizing version of “American Masterpieces.” Is it a coincidence that both of the American masters were wildly successful in both the concert hall and on Broadway? (That lets out Aaron Copland, I guess.)
To be sure, coming up with an uncontested choice of a great American piano concerto does present something of a challenge (Samuel Barber? Edward MacDowell? Howard Hanson?), but one might consider Bernstein’s Second Symphony “The Age of Anxiety”, which has a huge part for the piano and is, moreover, a shockingly neglected masterpiece.
That could replace both the West Side Story dances and the Gershwin concerto, and leave room for a great American symphony like Virgil Thomson’s Symphony on a Hymn Tune or Ross Lee Finney’s Symphony No. 1 “Communiqué” (1943) or George Antheil’s jazzy, art-deco Symphony No. 5 — all of which are tuneful and well-within the accessibility parameters established by the Bernstein and Gershwin.
Still, most listeners, including this writer, will find the program a delight as it is, and no one will be heard to complain afterward.
Tickets to the symphony concerts range from $42 to $130 and can be purchased from The Granada box office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.