Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 12:15 am | Fair 53º


Margo Kline: Academy Orchestra Exits in High Style

Its summer season closes with sterling performances of three classics

The Music Academy of the West’s summer season closed out Saturday night with a concert of its Festival Orchestra playing three sumptuous classics at The Granada.

With Peter Oundjian on the podium, the young players delivered sterling performances of Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 in One Movement, Opus 9, Leoš Janáček’s Taras Bulba and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, “Pathetique.” As it has done throughout this session of the academy, the ensemble was polished, in spite of its members spending much of their time in master classes, tutorials and other performances along the way.

This is the annual miracle of the academy: It brings together some of the country’s most promising young musicians to play for discriminating audiences, while honing their individual talents in classes at Miraflores, the Montecito campus. This year, the academy’s 63rd, has seen an especially rewarding series of concerts, with conductors, such as Oundjian, who have unerring rapport with the players.

The program began with Barber’s Symphony No. 1, which dates from the mid-1930s and is a benchmark of the innovative young composer’s venturing forth after his graduation from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia to studying at the American Academy in Rome. Never shy about his aims, Barber undertook to combine the customary four movements of a classical symphony into what he called a “synthetic” single-movement work.

In this work and in the Janáček Taras Bulba, first cello duties were taken by Brook Spelzt, 23, who recently graduated from the Curtis Institute and is headed for The Juilliard School in the fall. He is one example among many of these academy fellows who boast excellent scholastic credentials and musical gifts on the same level.

The Barber piece was followed by Taras Bulba, composed by Janáček from 1915 to 1918. Janáček, a native of what is now the Czech Republic, was tired of the German-speaking Habsburg Empire that held sway over his country and chose to look eastward to Russia for his subject matter, a celebrated story by Nikolai Gogol. Taras Bulba is what one music teacher of my acquaintance used to call “a crowd killer,” and indeed the audience was moved to roars of approval at its end.

The final work was Tchaikovsky’s incomparable Sixth Symphony, the “Pathetique,” introduced only nine days before the composer’s untimely and unexpected death.

Since this seemed to be a night for the cellos, praise also goes to Matthew Park, who assumed the first chair. Park is an undergraduate at the Manhattan School of Music, studying with Alan Stepansky.

The evening ended with a standing ovation for the musicians and the conductor.

It is worth noting that the program was preceded by recognition of NancyBell Coe, who was ending her six-year term as the academy’s president. She will be succeeded by Scott Reed, who has served most recently as vice president for institutional advancement at the Music Academy.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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