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Gerald Carpenter: Slatkin Rings Down Curtain on Music Academy’s 2011 Summer Festival

Renowned conductor to lead closing concert at 8 p.m. today at The Granada

The Music Academy of the West always ends its summer festivals with a spectacular concert by the Festival Orchestra. It is tempting to say that this year it has outdone itself — having coaxed the incomparable maestro Leonard Slatkin to come to conduct what promises to be a truly “grande finale” of a concert — but one has only to recall the unbroken succession of unforgettable closing concerts for these last several decades to be cautious about pronouncing any one of them the “best” or the “greatest.”

That said, I have no qualms about saying there is no greater conductor now living than maestro Slatkin — the number of those as great is always open for discussion — and that this closing concert, at 8 p.m. Saturday in The Granada, will be at least the equal of any that preceded it.

The program will comprise three works: “Circuits,” by the contemporary American composer, Cindy McTee; “Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Opus 32 (1876)” by Peter Tchaikovsky; and “Le Sacre du Printemps/The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky.

McTee was born and raised — like “Far Side” creator Gary Larson — in Tacoma, Wash. Her parents were both musicians who had a small dance band (her father played trumpet and her mother clarinet), and she grew up listening to popular music and jazz from the 1940s and ‘50s. At age 6, she began both piano and saxophone lessons.

Apart from her parents, the most significant influence on her development as a composer was the great Pole, Krzysztof Penderecki, whom she met in 1974 while a junior majoring in composition at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Penderecki invited her to teach his children English in return for composition lessons. She wound up spending an entire year in Poland, living with the Penderecki family and studying orchestration, 20th-century techniques and counterpoint at the Cracow Music Academy. I have heard a great deal of McTee’s music now, including “Circuits,” and I must say she is the real thing. Her Polish mentor can sometimes be a bit obscure, but McTee is always accessible and persuasive, though by no means reactionary. “Circuits” lasts six minutes.

One day in 1912, the immortal Pierre Monteux, who had conducted the triumphant world premiere of Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka,” was summoned by Serge Diaghilev to a small rehearsal room in Monte Carlo, to hear the composer play through the piano reduction of his new ballet, “The Rite of Spring.” The conductor and the impresario were the only audience.

“Before he got very far,” Monteux recalled, “I was convinced that (Stravinsky) was raving mad. Heard this way, without the color of the orchestra which is one of its greatest distinctions, the crudity of the rhythms was emphasized, its stark primitiveness underlined. The very walls resounded as Stravinsky pounded away, occasionally stamping his feet and jumping up and down to accentuate the force of the music. Not that is needed such emphasis. ... My only comment at the end was that such music would surely cause a scandal.”

Nevertheless, Monteux knew genius when he heard it, and he leaped at the chance to conduct the premiere. As we know, there was indeed a scandal, in fact a riot, and Stravinsky had to leave by a back window. A year later, Monteux conducted a concert version of the piece at the Casino de Paris, and it was a resounding success. Prepare to be scandalized — and delighted.

Tickets to Slatkin and the Academy Festival Orchestra are $48, $38 and $10. Click here for tickets and more information about the Music Academy of the West, or call 805.969.8787.

Tickets are also available from The Granada box office, 1214 State St., which can be reached by telephone at 805.899.2222. Click here to purchase tickets online.

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

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