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Gerald Carpenter: Music Academy’s Jones, Rachleff Taking the Lead

A Jones masterclass at 3 p.m. Saturday will be followed by a Rachleff-conducted concert at 8 p.m.

Saturday is shaping up to be a red-letter day at the Music Academy of the West.

Warren Jones
Warren Jones

For one thing, Warren Jones, director of the academy’s Vocal Piano Program, will lead a Vocal Masterclass at 3 p.m. in the Lobero Theatre.

That is, for most of you, all I need to say. An amazingly charismatic and brilliant performer in his own right, Jones’ instruction of young pianists and singers combines a seldom-equaled technical mastery with a uniquely passionate empathy, making rare, special events of his masterclasses. I could add, from the academy’s own publicity, that Jones was “recently named ‘Collaborative Pianist of the Year’ by Musical America,” but for me, that begs the question: Shouldn’t that be “Collaborative Pianist of the Last 15 Years, and Counting”?

Then, at 8 p.m. in Hahn Hall, Larry Rachleff will lead yet another selection from that vast, shining sea of musical talent — the Music Academy student body; this one called the Academy Chamber Players — in a concert that is a tale of two centuries, the 20th and the 18th.

The program includes three short works and one longish one: Edgar Varèse’s Ionisation (1931), Anton Webern’s Fünf Stücke /Five Orchestral Pieces, Opus 10 (1913), Igor Stravinsky’s Concertino for Twelve Instruments (1920, 1952), and Wolfgang Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C-Major, K. 551, called the “Jupiter.” I should say that, set end to end, the first three pieces last less than 20 minutes altogether.

If, as William Shakespeare has Polonius say, “Brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,” then Webern (1883-1945) was just about the wittiest composer who ever lived.

There are at least two problems with this conclusion, as I see it. For one thing, Polonius was the most notorious bore in all of Shakespeare, and couldn’t be brief if his life depended on it. For another, Webern was palpably and demonstrably without a shred of humor, and it’s hard to be witty when you don’t see what’s funny about anything — when you take with Teutonic literalness every casual utterance of your master, especially if your master is Arnold Schoenberg. I love Schoenberg and Berg, but I always think Webern is pulling my leg — or would, if it were not for … (see above). I am hoping that Rachleff will persuade me to think differently.

It is difficult to be absolutely certain about such things, but it seems to me that this is the first work by Varèse that I have seen on any program since I moved to Santa Barbara in 1984. I would love to be corrected on this, if there was something I have missed. Ionisation is one of Varèse’s best-known works, and if you doubt his influence, I recommend you attend a concert at UCSB featuring student compositions. You will hear more that reminds you of Ionisation (or Density 21.5 or Integrales or Octandre or Hyperprism) than reminds you of Webern. And Varèse is not working out somebody else’s equation to the last decimal point; he is playing exclusively by his own rules. We hear of people marching to the beat of a different drummer; Varèse is one of those drummers.

Once you get to the Stravinsky, you are safe and dry. The Concertino is a masterpiece of compressed vitality and controlled dynamism.

Tickets to the Jones masterclass are $30, and $37 to the Academy Chamber Players. Tickets can be purchased at the door, by clicking here or by calling 805.969.8787. Tickets to the Jones class can also be purchased at the Lobero box office at 33 E. Canon Perdido St., by phone at 805.963.0761, or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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