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CAMA Brings Orchestra from Jerusalem, Conductor from New York

The program, to feature three works by Jewish composers, is also largely an American program.

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Leon Botstein will conduct the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a concert Wednesday night at the Granada Theatre. (Steve Sherman photo)

The Community Arts Music Association kicks off its 2008-09 International Series with a concert by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, with Leon Botstein as music director and conductor and Robert McDuffie as violin soloist.

The event will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the refurbished, virtually reimagined Granada Theatre, now also known as the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts. The principal sponsor is Michael Towbes of The Towbes Foundation, and the event is also sponsored by Michele Neely-Saltoun and André Saltoun.

There are three works on the program — all, appropriately enough, by Jewish composers: a set of symphonic variations, Shneim-Asar Shivtei Yisrael (The Twelve Tribes of Israel), composed in Palestine in 1938 by Erich Walter Sternberg (1891-1974); a Serenade for Violin and Orchestra after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein (1918-90); and the Symphony No. 3 (1946) by Aaron Copland (1900-90).

Except for the Sternberg — which may well prove to be the most memorable work on the program — this is also, alternatively, a largely American program. I take that to be the doing of Botstein, an American who is, in addition to his position with the Jerusalem orchestra, president of Bard College in New York, editor of The Musical Quarterly and music director of the American Symphony Orchestra.

Perhaps because he refused to get involved in the politics of the State of Israel, Sternberg’s near primacy in the history of the music of Palestine/Israel has not been widely acknowledged (The 12 Tribes, for instance, is the first large-scale orchestral work composed in the region).

Born in Germany and trained as a lawyer, he switched to music early on. He had been making annual visits to Palestine since 1925 and settled there for good in 1931. An aggressive modernist in his early years, by the time he composed The 12 Tribes, he had taken up and remastered the late romantic idiom of Brahms and (Richard) Strauss.

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Violinist Robert McDuffie will play the solo role in Leonard Bernstein’s celebration of Plato and love. (Christian Steiner photo)
“There is no literal program for this Serenade,” Leonard Bernstein wrote, “despite the fact that it resulted from a re-reading of Plato’s charming dialogue, ‘The Symposium.’” (When was the last time you heard someone call one of Plato’s dialogues “charming”?) “The music,” Bernstein goes on, “like the dialogue, is a series of related statements in praise of love …”

The Serenade, also like the dialogue, is one of its author’s most accessible and pleasing works. It is in five movements, and expresses nothing so much as Bernstein’s delight at the rediscovery of Plato — and in directly treating a subject, love, dear to all our hearts.

Copland’s Third Symphony, his last essay in the form, was completed and premiered — by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony — in 1946. The work is in four movements, and represents Copland’s transition from the abstraction of his early music to the folk- and jazz-influenced ballets and dance suites that made him beloved. It contains a version of the Fanfare for the Common Man and is dedicated to the memory of Natalie Koussevitsky.

Tickets are available from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222 or from CAMA at 805.966.4324.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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