Every now and again, Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama likes to demonstrate that the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra is considerably more than a superior back-up band for various traveling superstar soloists. He likes to schedule a concert in which the only ego in the room is that of the composer.
After all, the SBCO is that rare organization in which the whole is exactly equal to the sum of its parts: an orchestra of virtuosos, it is also, under Ohyama’s baton, a virtuoso orchestra. The upcoming concert — at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Lobero Theatre — is just such a demonstration.
There are three works on the program: Gustav Holst’s “St. Paul Suite, Opus 29, No. 2;” Igor Stravinsky’s “Concerto for String Orchestra in D major;” and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings in C Major, Opus 48.”
It is a rare composer — songwriters excepted — who can live off his or her compositions. This is true even of composers whose music is “accessible” (musicologist euphemism for “pretty”). Thus the irresistible lure of Hollywood, where a composer with the knack can not only make a decent living but can actually get rich. Most composers are never able to quit their day jobs: piano tuner, church organist, journalist, academic, or something even farther removed from their bliss.
Holst (1874-1934), for example, became a teacher. In 1904, though his school chum and lifelong friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams, was already challenging Edward Elgar as the most famous English composer, Holst was still having trouble getting his gorgeous works performed and published. He got himself appointed musical director at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith (a suburb of London).
Although the 1918 international success of The Planets made performance and publication much easier for him, he remained at St. Paul’s, and a teacher, for the rest of his life. Holst found the school very congenial, and they were fond of him, too, building him a sound-proof teaching room, where he wrote most of his works from then on. The St. Paul Suite, with its folksy charm and invigorating freshness, was the first piece he composed after joining the faculty.
Having never been, myself, a balletomane, I was shocked, a couple of years ago, to have it finally sink in that Tchaikovsky wrote only three ballets in his entire career: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. I suppose I assumed that, as with Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev, there were several Tchaikovsky ballets that hadn’t clicked with the public and so dropped out of the canon. But no: three pitches, three home runs with the bases loaded. Wow. No wonder choreographers have gone to all of Tchaikovsky’s other orchestral scores looking for ballet material.
The “Serenade for Strings,” for example, has been used twice: as the score of George Balanchine’s 1934 ballet, Serenade, and as the predominant music in Boris Eifman’s 2005 ballet Anna Karenina. Stravinsky wrote “The Fairy’s Kiss” out of a set of piano pieces by Tchaikovsky, and his “Concerto for String Orchestra” has itself been turned into a ballet several times.
Click here for tickets to Tuesday’s concert or call the Lobero box office at 805.963.0761.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.