This is the first official year of the New York Philharmonic's four-year partnership with the Music Academy of the West (the unofficial ambassadors like the great Glenn Dicterow have been a presence for several years). We have had the benefit already of the conducting of the NY Phil's assistant conductor leading the Festival Orchestra for Concerto Night, and now the music director himself will step onto the podium to conduct a selection of players from the Festival Orchestra in a fascinating program of works for small orchestra, at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Lobero Theatre.
Maestro Alan Gilbert cannot, I think, achieve a higher position in the music world than he has now attained, numbering Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler among his predecessors, he can only go somewhere else. But why would he?
The program he has chosen is like an archeological excavation, starting more or less in the present, the jumping back almost a century to the peak of the "Modernist" era, then back another century to finish on the Classical-Romantic cusp. We will hear Thomas Ades' Chamber Symphony 15 Players (1991), Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 in Eb-Major, Opus 9 (1906) and Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 2 in Bb-Major, D. 125 (1815).
Adès (b. 1971) is a British conductor, pianist and composer. One of his earliest teachers was Paul Berkowitz, who was born in Canada and was then living and teaching in London (he is now professor of piano at UCSB). The Chamber Symphony is a relatively early work, written when he was 20. I haven't heard it yet, so I can't describe it to you, but the works of his that I have heard are quite engaging.
Getting people to listen to Schoenberg is pretty much an exercise in futility, I have generally found. Even when the piece is totally accessible, harmonically, the name "Schoenberg" (he changed the spelling from "Schönberg" when he came to live in Los Angeles) is so fixed in our heads as belonging to the guy who ruined music that we just won't give him a fair hearing. Unfortunately, schedulers try to sugar coat the composer by focusing on the very earliest of his works because they song like late Romantic works, rather than modern.
But if all we get to hear is the dreary Transfigured Night or the dismal Pelleas und Melisande, we will never figure out that he really was a great composer. The Chamber Symphony No. 1 is, in fact, a perfect introduction to the real Schoenberg: no wilder harmonically than Debussy, but shaken free of the morose Teutonic slog of his early compositions (always excepting the miraculous Gurre Lieder).
The risks he takes are in form, not harmony. It is a spellbinder, and besides, Maestro Gilbert holds out the ineffable sweetness of Schubert for those who have stayed in their seats to the end.
Tickets to this concert are $48, and they can be purchased from the Music Academy ticket office at 805.969.8787 or online by clicking here. They can also be purchased at the Lobero box office at 33 E. Canon Perdido St., or by calling 805.963.0761 or online by clicking here.