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Margo Kline: Symphony Presents Sounds of Heaven

Harpist Letizia Belmondo graces the stage in a shiny performance of the Renie concerto

The Santa Barbara Symphony offered two celestial works at The Granada over the weekend — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 40th Symphony, the “Jupiter,” and Henriette Renie’s Harp Concerto in C-Minor.

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Harpist Letizia Belmondo

The program on Sunday began with Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which can claim its own heavenly aspects. Wagner composed it for his wife’s birthday, and she was thrilled by it. “I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household,” Cosima wrote later in her diary. The selection was dedicated in memoriam of Stephen Hahn, a longtime supporter of the symphony.

The concert’s centerpiece was Renie’s harp concerto, played by the Italian virtuosa Letizia Belmondo, who on Sunday took the stage in a dramatic red taffeta gown. Belmondo was a child prodigy, and is still a young and vibrant soloist with a powerful command of her instrument.

Renie’s concerto was first played in 1901, and the devoutly religious composer was honored at the Concerts Lamereaux in that year. She continued to teach and perform until she was into her 80s; a piquant note in the program said that one of her students was Adolph Marx, later known as Harpo of the Marx Brothers.

In her championing of the harp as a concert instrument, Renie raised the instrument to its eminence with her works and her performances. Bernard Gavoty, a critic for Le Figaro, wrote after her death, “The harp owes to her what the guitar owes to Segovia.”

As for Mozart’s “Jupiter,” the orchestra gave it a rousing, entirely appropriate reading. It was Mozart’s final major work, composed when he was near the end in every way: in debt, his wife ill, his compositions often ignored, soon to die himself while still in his 30s.

But this final outburst of symphonic genius has continued to thrill audiences since its first performance in the late 18th century. Dr. Richard Rodda, in his program notes, states without reserve, “Mozart was the greatest genius in the history of music, and he never surpassed the fourth and final movement of the Jupiter.” It contains “as many as five different themes played simultaneously at certain places,” Rodda noted. Mozart’s middle name translates “beloved of God,” and his music would seem to bear this out.

The symphony’s next performances will be May 14-15 at The Granada, featuring pianist Alon Goldstein playing Avner Dorman’s Piano Concerto No. 2, “Lost Souls.” The orchestra will also perform Antonin Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and the Symphony No. 4 of Johannes Brahms.

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

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