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Academy to Perform Grand Musical Showcases

Concerts on Friday and Saturday will feature solo pianists as well as a full orchestra

While nearly all of the Music Academy of the West’s public events contain a considerable amount of musical performance, the first actual concert of the 2009 Summer Festival — the “Pianofest,” starring Jerome Lowenthal and the usual gaggle of talented students — will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Hahn Hall, on the academy campus.

The concert will be played upon, and is in celebration of, the academy’s new Steinway Concert Grand.

Lowenthal calls the concert “A Pleroma of Preludes” (“pleroma” is from the Greek πλήρωμα, meaning “fullness”), a fitting motto, since the program contains 22 examples of the form by Franz Liszt, J.S. Bach (2), Frederic Chopin (5), George Gershwin (2), Anatol Lyadov, Sergei Rachmaninoff (4), Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy (3), Karol Szymanowski and Federico Mompou, played by himself and academy Piano Fellows (students) Hanmo Qian, Jun Sun, Kenric Tam, Jean-Philippe Sylvestre, Or Matias, Hana Chu, Christopher McKiggan, Evan Shinners, Christine Kim and Carissa Kim.

Lowenthal will begin the recital with his beloved Liszt and will conclude it with Rachmaninoff. In between, the fellows will divide the other 20 preludes more or less equally between them.

Lyadov (1855-1914) was a Russian composer and teacher. His music is conservative and nationalistic, and if one of his students played something “modern” for him, Lyadov would tell him or her to go study with Strauss or Debussy.

Mompou (1893-1987) was a Spanish Catalan composer. His principal influences were French impressionism and Erik Satie, resulting in a style in which musical development is minimized, and expression is concentrated into very small forms.

At 8 p.m. Saturday in The Granada, we will get to bear witness to that astonishing annual miracle, the Academy Festival Orchestra. Most of these young musicians arrive in Montecito knowing few if any of their colleagues; a week later, they have become a world-class symphony orchestra, performing tightly and insightfully as if they had been playing together for a couple of decades. If that isn’t a miracle, what is?

The 2009 Festival Orchestra’s first program, conducted by Larry Rachleff (music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic), will include two works: the Suite No. 2 from Ravel’s one-act ballet, Daphnis et Chloé (1912), and the Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Opus 47 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Daphnis et Chloé was commissioned by Serge Diaghgilev in 1909. The subject, from a romance by Greek poet Longus, had long been of interest to the Ballets Russes’ choreographer, Mikhail Fokine, and Ravel was instructed to work with Fokine in writing the score.

All did not go particularly smoothly. Ravel fought with Fokine, Fokine fought with Nijinsky, who was to create the role of Daphnis, and Ravel took a full three years in composing it, giving Diaghilev plenty of time for second thoughts. Nevertheless, the premiere took place at the Théâtre du Châtelet in June 1912, with Nijinsky and Karsavina in the title roles, in a production designed by Léon Bakst, conducted by Pierre Monteux — who also conducted the premières of Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) as well as Debussy’s Jeux. Daphnis was a modest hit as a ballet, but the concert suites have long since gone platinum.

It seems a shame that Shostakovich, so hassled by Stalin and his thuggish successors while he was alive, should be yoked to Stalin throughout eternity. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is one of the greatest symphonies of the 20th century, except that he didn’t imprison or kill the composer before he could write it, Stalin had nothing to do with it. Much has been made of the motto Shostakovich attached to it — “A Soviet artist’s reply to just criticism” — but, really, it’s a con job. It is meaningless.

By the time he was attacked for political incorrectness, in 1936, Shostakovich had already radically revised his compositional style, away from the spiky, smart-alecky early works toward greater accessibility and emotional depth. Neither Shostakovich nor Prokofiev altered a single note in their scores to please the commissars — how would that work, anyway? — but they were both fully capable of lying through their teeth to keep the lethal communist bureaucrats off their backs. Who wouldn’t?

Tickets to the Pianofest are $40. Tickets to the Festival Orchestra are $45, $30 and $10. For tickets, click here or call 805.969.8787.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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