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Margo Kline: Symphony Serves Up All-American Program

Weekend concerts showcase the talents of pianist Terrence Wilson as guest artist

The Santa Barbara Symphony resumed its 2011-12 season over the weekend with a program of homegrown and quintessentially American works.

With Music Director Nir Kabaretti on the podium and much-heralded young pianist Terrence Wilson as guest artist, the symphony roused a near-full house at the Granada Theatre to standing ovations and bravos.

The program began with a truly American and unique composition by Dave Brubeck and his son, Chris Brubeck. The work was titled “Ansel Adams: America for Orchestra and Projected Photographs.” Adams limned the glories of California, especially Yosemite, in black and white photos, which were projected on a large screen above the orchestra.

Dave Brubeck is the composer of jazz masterpieces such as Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk. Adams the photographer started out as a serious student of the concert piano; this music serves to intensify the effect of his shots of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half Dome and the surrounding Yosemite grandeur.

In the program notes, Chris Brubeck praised the artistry of Adams’ life and works, including the master photographer’s autobiography.

“I was impressed with his philosophical views, beautiful writing and keen analysis and comparison of musical and photographic techniques,” the younger Brubeck wrote. He and Dave Brubeck composed this piece in 2008. The symphony audience roared its approval at the conclusion.

George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is an American classic and a standard as well. The piano soloist here was young Wilson, a Juilliard graduate who has been touring and making a name for himself in Europe and the United States.

At Sunday’s performance, his performance was assured and lyrical. The symphony’s horns were in excellent form, and the clarinet introduction was as seductive as ever.

After intermission, the orchestra essayed the five-movement Symphony No. 2 by Charles Ives, whose name is sure to come up any time “America” and music are mentioned in the same sentence. Ives is a curious amalgam of the artistic and the profitable. He composed this work shortly after graduating from Yale University and just beginning his business career.

Ives was a singular American, a dedicated artist who also had the skill and ambition to make a successful career in the life insurance business. The scion of a prominent Connecticut family, he wove fundamental American tunes into his compositions.

In its modernist incarnation, the Symphony No. 2 also employs themes from American patriotic songs, including “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” The influence of Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvorak can also be detected. The audience stood to applaud after the piece was finished.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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