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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony Falls for French Music

The Santa Barbara Symphony is the latest local music provider to fall under the spell of French music, with its concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Granada Theatre.

Called “French Connections,” the concerts will be conducted by the symphony’s music director, Nir Kabaretti, and will feature the dazzling flute-playing of rising star Demarre McGill.

The very Gallic program will consist of two pieces by Claude Debussy, Syrinx (a three-minute meditation for solo flute) and Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, followed by Jacques Ibert’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C-Minor, Opus 78 “Organ Symphony”.

Ibert wrote his concerto in 1934 for his friend, flautist Marcel Moise, to whom the work is dedicated. Like all of his compositions, Ibert’s only goal is the please of his audience, and he certainly achieves it here. You may not remember much of the music, but you will surely remember how brilliant McGill was in playing it, especially the last movement.

I’m glad Saint-Saëns gets the last word in this concert — the last note, if you will — since I consider him, after Hector Berlioz, the greatest French composer. He probably wouldn’t have been pleased to be sharing the bill with Debussy, whom he disliked, as a man and as a composer. (When a friend wrote to him to ask why he never spent any time in Paris anymore, Saint-Saëns replied: “I only come to town to speak ill of Debussy.”)

In contrast to Debussy’s vague murkiness, Saint-Saëns’ music is a model of clarity and classical transparency. Traces of his youthful addiction to Richard Wagner can be heard in this symphony, though it is possible they come from Berlioz rather than the heavy-handed Teutonics of Richard I. As with his violin concertos, No. 3 is the only Saint-Saëns symphony anybody plays. (At least one recording exists of his first two symphonies, and if you can find one of a very early work, his Symphony in F-Major “City of Rome” — written in 1856, when he was living there on his Prix de Rome money — you will be rewarded by a very pleasant surprise, but basically, the Organ Symphony is his principal contribution to the form. It touches the sublime at many points.

Tickets to the symphony concerts range from $35 to $135 and can be purchased from the Granada Box Office at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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