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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:02 pm | Fair 49º


Academy’s Mahler Performance a Fitting End to Session

The young students rise to the challenge of an incredibly complex and profound symphony.

There probably could have been no more fitting a conclusion to the summer session of the Music Academy of the West than Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor.

This was the immense work (did Mahler write any other kind?) chosen for these young Academy Festival Orchestra players to end their sojourn at the Academy in the Miraflores estate in Montecito. Conductor Peter Oundjian led the orchestra in Mahler’s joyous testament of faith and love.

Academy students, now called Fellows, are in their late teens and early 20s, children by many standards, and here they were playing an incredibly complex, profound, long and difficult work. Although many of the young people are already launched on their professional careers, this was still a daunting choice for their farewell performance. As audiences have come to expect, the musicians rose to the occasion.

Adding to the beauty of the evening, the vocal parts were sung by the Women of the Academy Voice Program, overseen by diva Marilyn Horne; the Women of the Santa Barbara Choral Arts Society, directed by JoAnne Wasserman, and the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus, led by Steve O’Connor.

The alto solo was sung by mezzo soprano Jennifer Feinstein, 24, who was completing her first term at the Academy. A statuesque strawberry blonde in a sea-green, low-cut gown, Feinstein received a vociferous welcome from the young men in the audience. She sang beautifully, too.

Other soloists, equally gifted, were concertmaster Jeff Thayer, trombonist Douglas Rosenthal and Kyra Sovronsky, a trumpet player who covered the haunting posthorn solo. All are distinguished Academy faculty members.

The composer was 35 when he began the Third Symphony in 1895. His characteristic Mahlerian aim was a symphony that “should encompass the whole of nature and the world.” He completed it the following year.

The symphony is long and deep, and the orchestra took a welcome break about midway through. There are six movements, the first one practically a symphony unto itself. In the succession of movements, Mahler especially cherished the second, Blumenstuck, which he wrote was “the most carefree music I have ever written.”

As the symphony surged on, there were moments of Nietzchean pain, cheerful, folklike song with the children’s voices, and the sixth and last movement. Here, Mahler referred back to themes of tragedy and loss and, finally, comfort. The end of the piece resolves in an ecstatic embrace of God and his angels, love and faith. At the final notes, the audience members leaped to their feet, giving the Academy Fellows and Oundjian their just reward, a roaring ovation.

Mezzo Feinstein and the other soloists and conductors, Oundjian, Wasserman and O’Connor, took numerous bows, then turned and applauded their young players. This also was an expression of love and faith: love for the gifted artists, and faith that next summer’s Academy season will be just as much joy to the audience and musicians.

Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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