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Margo Kline: Kahane, Kabaretti in Sync in Symphony Concert

Weekend performance at The Granada showcases Rachmaninoff

Jeffrey Kahane put on his pianist hat at The Granada over the weekend, soloing with the Santa Barbara Symphony in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s mighty Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor.

Kahane, as notable a conductor as he is a soloist, on this occasion left the conducting to the orchestra’s music director, Nir Kabaretti. The two were obviously in sync as Kahane attacked the Rachmaninoff in a manner that could almost be called jaunty.

This work is familiar, not only to lovers of piano music but to those who saw the film Shine in the mid-1990s. The movie recounted the struggles of pianist David Helfgott, whose descent into madness — and climb back out — were accompanied by the stirring Rachmaninoff score.

According to the program notes, Rachmaninoff composed this concerto for a tour of America, but was reluctant to undertake the enormous obligation, leaving family and home behind. However (this was in 1909), the Russian also wanted to buy an automobile and the tour was a means of financing it.

Whatever the motivation, Rachmaninoff did nobly by his commission, and the work proved successful throughout the tour. It is in three movements: allegro ma non tanto to begin, intermezzo adagio in the middle and a complex and challenging finale alla breve.

Kahane played with great zest and seemed to enjoy his performance almost as much as the audience did. He received bravos and a standing ovation at the end, and Kabaretti encouraged him to stay on stage and take plenty of bows.

Kahane and Rachmaninoff occupied the entire second half of the program. The first half was given over to a modern work by Paul Hindemith and a contemporary one by Joseph Schwantner, the latter composed in 2008.

First up was Hindemith’s Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Opus 50, written in 1930, which was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 50th anniversary. History tells us that Hindemith had a kind of off-and-on relationship with the Nazi regime in his native Germany. The Nazis encouraged his music because he was “modern” but still using tonality and thus, apparently to their way of thinking, a suitable artist for the party. On the other hand, Hindemith’s wife was Jewish and the couple immigrated first to Switzerland in 1938 and then to the United States in 1940.

The Concert Music emphasizes strings with complex writing resulting from Hindemith’s own skills as a fine violist. The work also contains long passages that tax the brass players, but members of the symphony handled the challenges with ease.

Chasing Light ... is contemporary composer Schwantner’s evocation of the light that inspires him at his home in rural New Hampshire. The four movements are “Sunrise Ignites Daybreak’s Veil: Con forza, feroce con bravura”; “Calliope’s Rainbowed Song: Lontano”; “A Kaleidoscope Blooms: Lacrioso”; and “Morning’s Embrace Confronts the Dawn: Lontano ... leggiero.” Schwantner received a Pulitzer Prize for music in 1979, and has received numerous other awards and fellowships.

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s next concert, at The Granada, will be May 15-16 and will feature Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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