Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 7:58 pm | Fair 64º


Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy of the West Opens Summer Festival

This year's program features works by Adams, Stravinsky and Beethoven

As it has since time immemorial, the Music Academy of the West began its 2012 Summer Festival with a Solo Piano Masterclass led by the academy’s master of masters, Jerome Lowenthal.

Composer John Adams once went for a short ride in a fast machine — and once was enough. (Christine Alicino photo)
Composer John Adams once went for a short ride in a fast machine — and once was enough. (Christine Alicino photo)

There followed five full days of masterclasses of every shape and hue, led by the dazzling roster of faculty members — virtuosos all — with a pause on Thursday to reflect on the enormous contributions of the late violinist and longtime faculty titan, Zvi Zeitlin, and culminating at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall with the popular and explosive “PianoFest,” Maestro Lowenthal again presiding.

The schedule of masterclasses is the living framework of the festival’s eight-week run, with the various faculty and student concerts, chamber and orchestral, and the operatic events showing us at regular intervals how all this gifted instruction pays off in the real-time world of music-makers.

There are few events in all of contemporary music more exciting than the sudden annual blooming to full maturity of the Academy Festival Orchestra. This year’s edition of this miraculous rebirth takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Granada Theatre. As he has for the past five festivals, the dynamic and charismatic conductor, Larry Rachleff, will wield the magic wand that returns the ensemble to glorious life.

The program will consist of John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, the 1919 suite from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A-Major, Opus 92.

The immediate and enduring popularity of his brief fanfare, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, took Adams by surprise. He especially thought it unsuitable for young players as being too hard. Nevertheless, Rachleff’s scheduling of the work at the beginning of the opening concert of the orchestra repeats the original circumstances pretty closely. Michael Tilson Thomas commissioned the work when he was director of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s summer festival, as the work that opened the whole season’s concerts.

Adams was reluctant at first, and was at a loss as to how to go about writing a fanfare that didn’t just follow the model of the famous one by Aaron Copland. Then he remembered a wild ride he had taken years before in the Lamborghini of his then brother-in-law — during which the young composer feared for his life. The vivid memory of that ride was the inspiration he needed, and the Short Ride in a Fast Machine was the result.

Much has been made of the row that ensued from the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, in 1912, but the Stravinsky revolution that changed music forever began two years earlier, with the first performance of The Firebird,/>. Although the influence of his mentor, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, is still to be heard — was, indeed, discernible in all his works throughout his life — few works have impressed the world with their total originality as The Firebird. It was not just a new style; it was a new musical sensibility — albeit that Stravinsky himself would have been more at home in the 17th century than in the 20th.

Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony doesn’t have a memorable nickname like “Eroica” or “Pastoral” or even “Choral,” nor does it open with a four-note motif that even a musical illiterate would recognize, like the Fifth, but it is not without its ardent fans, including me (the second movement was the music by which my wife and I walked up to take our marriage vows). The nobility and dash of the first movement, the solemn gorgeousness of the second, the playful romp of the third, and the headlong, madcap rush of the finale — they all follow each other so perfectly and provide so much satisfaction.

Tickets to the Festival Orchestra are $100 (loge box seat), $48, $38 and $10. They can be purchased by phone at 805.969.8787 or online by clicking here. Tickets are also available from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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