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Gerald Carpenter: CAMA Brings St. Louis to Santa Barbara

The Community Arts Music Association is bringing the remarkable St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to the Granada Theatre at 8 p.m. Wednesday. David Robertson will conduct, with flautist Mark Sparks appearing as soloist in the concerted work.

Flautist Mark Sparks
Flautist Mark Sparks

The St. Louis program includes four works: Richard Strauss’ haunting tone poem Don Juan, Opus 20, Christopher Rouse’s celebrated Flute Concerto, Strauss’ sardonic Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Opus 28 and Paul Hindemith’s majestic symphony Mathis der Maler, from his opera of the same name.

Quite a lineup, steeped in the rich, Teutonic tradition of the band. Even Hindemith has more of Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler than Igor Stravinsky, and his austere grandeur may come as a palatte cleanser after the lush, indefatigable brilliance of Strauss’ orchestration.

Rouse has this to say of his concerto: “Although no universal credence for the Jungian concept of ‘genetic memory’ exists, for me it seems a profoundly viable notion. Although both of my parents’ families immigrated to America well before the Revolutionary War, I nonetheless still feel a deep ancestral tug of recognition whenever I am exposed to the arts and traditions of the British Isles, particularly those of Celtic origin.

“I have attempted to reflect my responses to these stimuli in my flute concerto, a five-movement work cast in a somewhat loose arch form. The first and last movements bear the title ‘Amhrán’ (Gaelic for “song”) and are simple melodic elaborations for the solo flute over the accompaniment of orchestral strings. … The second and fourth movements are both fast in tempo. The second is a rather sprightly march which shares some of its material with the fourth, a scherzo which refers more and more as it progresses to that most Irish of dances, the jig. ...

“In a world of daily horrors too numerous and enormous to comprehend en masse, it seems that only isolated, individual tragedies serve to sensitize us to the potential harm man can do to his fellow. For me, one such instance was the abduction and brutal murder of the 2-year-old English lad James Bulger at the hands of a pair of 10-year-old boys. I followed this case closely during the time I was composing my concerto and was unable to shake the horror of these events from my mind. The central movement of this work is an elegy dedicated to James Bulger’s memory, a small token of remembrance for a life senselessly and cruelly snuffed out.”

Despite the widespread indifference of the listening public, and the condescension of several big-name musicologists, Hindemith’s reputation as a major 20th-century composer continues to burn with a fairly steady flame. The reason is not far to seek: Although, with several notable exceptions, his compositions rarely transport one in the romantic way, becoming permanent features on the soundtrack of our emotional lives, yet they always leave one satisfied and impressed — they are so perfectly crafted.

A major exception to the above observation is, of course, Hindemith’s symphony, Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter). While the symphony is based on themes from the opera, the composer actually finished it before he finished the opera — a celebration of the Protestant Reformation and the painter Matthias Grünewald, who painted the Isenheim Altarpiece — inspiration to a lot of early 20th-century art.

Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic premiered the work March 12, 1934. (Otto Klemperer conducted the first performance outside Germany in October, in New York.) The reception in Germany was enthusiastic — until the Nazis decided that the music opposed the party line and censured Furtwängler, scaring the conductor badly. The music is exalted and uplifting from the first bar to the last.

Single tickets to the St. Louis Symphony are $38 to $88 and are available through the Granada Theatre box office at 805.899.2222, or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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