The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of Heiichiro Ohyama — celebrating his 30th year as SBCO music director — will play its last concert of 2013 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hahn Hall on the Music Academy of the West campus.
There will be no guest soloists, no winds and no brass or percussion — just the miraculous SBCO strings and their marvelous conductor, in a program they have dubbed "String Triple."
The evening's music will consist, as the motto suggests, of three string works, including Wolfgang Mozart's Divertimento for Strings No. 2 in B-Major, K.125b (a.k.a. K.137); John Rutter's Suite for Strings; and Franz Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D-Minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden” (1824) (arranged for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler in 1896).
This is a charming playlist by anybody's standard. Young as he was when he wrote the three Divertimenti of K.125a-c — he was 16 — he had been working as a professional musician for a decade and was already a master. They were written for a string quartet but, as Alfred Einstein authoritatively points out, "there is nothing of chamber music" in the first two. Only the andante and finale of the third "are more delicately formed, but still suitable for performance by an orchestra."
The Rutter piece has more tangible melodies than a good deal of his output, because they are folk melodies. The Suite for Strings is mainly an admirable setting of lovely folk tunes in the great British tradition of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, with the addition of some Walton astringency. An unexpected work, and a memorably fine one.
Mahler fully arranged just one movement of the Schubert quartet — any work with "Death" in the title was bound to catch his attention — but though he had sketched out how the others would go, he never got around to completing the arrangement himself. So, what we will hear is kind of like the "performing version" of his Tenth Symphony, of which only two movements are actually orchestrated by him.
Mahler doesn't add much more than his name to the music, which Schubert only heard once — with himself on the viola — and which was not even published until after his death. It remains as the original composer left it: haunting, enigmatic, lustrous. I keep reading that Schubert was obsessed with death when he wrote it, and that death is woven all through the work, like a skeleton, but I just don't hear it. It doesn't employ any of the cliches of mortal music, and if it didn't have that title, few would find the music especially morbid. Melancholy or sorrowful, yes, but not morbid.
If it's morbid you want, Hector Berlioz is your man, or Frédéric Chopin. But even with Berlioz and Chopin, there have to be words attached, an epigraph, a title, some words jotted on the score. Otherwise, a particularly lovely moment — and Schubert is, of course, packed full of them — one might not be able to help smiling, and that wouldn't do at all.
Tickets to this concert are $48, and can be purchased from the SBCO office at 805.966.2441 or online by clicking here.