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Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Orchestra Opens on Bicentennial Note

Tuesday's concert at the Lobero connects with Mendelsson, Haydn

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra will offer its first concert of the 2009-2010 season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Lobero Theatre. The ensemble will be conducted by the chamber orchestra’s longtime music director, Heiichiro Ohyama, with the brilliant pianist, Rieko Aizawa, as guest soloist.

Felix Mendelssohn at 12, about the age when he started some serious composing.
Felix Mendelssohn at 12, about the age when he started some serious composing.

The program consists of three works. Two are by Felix Mendelsson (1809-1847): the concert overture “The Hebrides (“Fingal’s Cave”), Opus 26,” and the “Concerto No. 1 in g-minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 25;” and the third is by Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809): the “Symphony No. 101 in D major ‘The Clock.’”

As you can see from the dates, this is a case of dueling bicentennials. Mendelssohn was born 200 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1809; Haydn died 200 years ago, on May 31, 1809. We celebrate the first date; we merely observe the latter. Of course, Abraham Lincoln was also born in February 1809, but the best orchestral work honoring President Lincoln by name — Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” — was just performed in Santa Barbara in August, or we might have had a three-way bicentennial elimination round. I can’t let the occasion pass, however, without noting once more the way the lifespan of Haydn connects our two greatest presidents: George Washington (b. 1732) and Lincoln (b. 1809). Like Mendelssohn and Lincoln, Washington was born in February. Fun facts, eh?

Both Mendelssohn and Haydn, as it happens, contributed more to western music than the catalog of their works, as wonderful as they are. Haydn invented most of the forms — symphony, string quartet, sonata-allegro, etc. — that are still in use today, although often unrecognizable. He also made significant material contributions to the careers of Mozart and Beethoven — instructed them in technical matters, befriended and encouraged them, arranged for performances, and so on.

Haydn, too, set music in motion, unlocking the baroque stasis (so, “The Clock” Symphony seems an inspired choice). Mendelssohn has a somewhat checkered career as an encourager of his contemporaries. He did a great deal for Denmark’s Niels Gade and his own mentor Ignaz Moscheles — both as conservative as him — and was somewhat less supportive, although always friendly, of his wild-haired peers, Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner (Wagner sent him an early symphony in hopes of a performance, but Mendelssohn lost the manuscript, fueling Wagner’s never-quite-dormant anti-Semitism).

Mendelssohn’s greatest gifts to music lovers, beyond his own gorgeous works, were his revivals of Bach, Handel and Schubert. He conducted the first performances since their composers’ deaths of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and Handel’s “Israel in Egypt,” and he conducted the first performance ever of Schubert’s “Symphony No. 9 in C-Major, ‘Great C.’” Quite a pair — too bad they never met.

Tickets to this concert are $47 and $42. Click here to purchase tickets online or call 805.963.0761 or visit the Lobero Box Office, 33 E. Canon Perdido.

— 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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