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Music Academy’s Opening Brilliant

The exceptionally talented young artists shine as the concert series takes on a more modern tone.

As surely as the Pacific rolls in on Santa Barbara’s beaches, the Music Academy of the West ushers in the summer — this time with a delightful modern flourish.

The Academy’s Festival Orchestra, conducted by Larry Rachleff, opened its season at the Lobero Theatre on June 28 with Paul Hindemith’s 1943 masterpiece, Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. The second piece on the program was Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73, in all its romantic majesty.

The concert was emblematic of the riches that the academy bestows, almost as a matter of course. The first half of the program was Hindemith, based on a work by Weber, a modern interpretation of a late 18th-, early 19th-century master. The second half was made up of the Brahms, the work of a late 19th-century giant of Romanticism.

Rachleff is a protean musician, director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Antonio Symphony, and director of orchestras and holder of the Walter Chris Hubert chair of Rice University’s School of Music in Houston.

His rapport with the student instrumentalists was immediately apparent. These young artists are the cream of the crop, already recipients of honors and degrees because of their exceptional musical gifts. Many are already playing professionally. Rachleff conducted them accordingly.

The orchestra’s concertmaster is Jeff Thayer, a member of the academy faculty and alumnus of its summer program. Now the concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony, his resume is long and rich with awards and competitions won. He is a graduate of the Cleveland School of Music, Eastman School of Music and Juilliard’s pre-college division.

When musicians of this caliber undertake a work like the Hindemith, there is a sparkle not present in most concerts.

Hindemith was one of many great talents that landed on America’s shores when Hitler marched through Europe. This work was written in 1943, when Hindemith was teaching at Harvard. It was supposed to have been a ballet for Leonid Massine, but composer and choreographer had a falling out and Hindemith made a symphony out of it.

The music is colorful, bright and spotlights each section of the orchestra in turn. It eventually was made into a ballet by George Balanchine in 1952.

After intermission came the mighty Brahms. The popular image of Brahms is of the gray-bearded genius trudging the streets of Vienna, his shabby cloak held closed by an ordinary safety pin. He never married and was not always appreciated by the Austrian-German music establishment.

In his youth he toured Europe with the popular Eduard Remenyi, a dashing Hungarian-Jewish violinist with whom he played the piano in duets. And there was the solace of his lonely bachelorhood in his devoted friendship with Clara Wieck and Robert Schumann. Brahms was indeed a Romantic, as his symphonies bear out.

The Festival Orchestra received a fully merited standing ovation at the end of the lyrical Second Symphony.

An example of Rachleff’s appreciation of the young musicians was his singling out exceptional players in every section, one after the other, during the applause.

Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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