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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony to Take On Russian Sounds

Two weekend concerts will consist of two romantic masterpieces

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s second program this season consists of two works, romantic Russian masterpieces, which pretty much define what music loving is all about.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14 at The Granada, music director Nir Kabaretti will lead the orchestra in performances of the Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 23 by Peter Tchaikovsky (with the gleaming young Latin American virtuoso Sergio Tiempo as soloist), and the symphonic suite Sheherazade, Opus 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

“The first step in understanding serious music,” musicologist Robert Garis observed, “has often taken the form of an adolescent infatuation with Tchaikovsky, and no one has ever found it hard to understand why this should be so. The grandiose opening of the First Piano Concerto, the dramatic contrasts and conflicts of Romeo and Juliet, the electric vitality of the march in the Pathetique, the seductive melancholy of its finale — the meaning of musical events like these is as accessible as anything in music, and Tchaikovsky’s broad themes seem to be what the word ‘melody’ was invented for.

“But this accessibility has been costly to Tchaikovsky’s reputation. For the second step in musical understanding is likely to be a violent, even angry repudiation of what had given so much pleasure before, a reaction unfortunately no harder to account for than the initial appeal.”

This seems to me pretty much unanswerable — not as a just evaluation of Tchaikovsky’s lasting worth but as a shrewd assessment of our relationship to the composer. I can no longer listen to recordings of the First Piano Concerto, but I never miss a live performance of the work if I can help it. There is always — live — the possibility of hearing something I have never heard before. And I am drawn in every time, “spellbound and swallowed,” as Dylan says.

Rimsky-Korsakov is something else again. He is so much the master of exotic orchestral color, so consummate an artist as a spinner of tales, so uncanny a fashioner of haunting melodies, that his music always waters and nourishes our imagination like a garden. And there is nothing in all of music, I think, that quite matches Sheherazade. From the first bars of “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” I am on board, tasting the sea wind, feeling the swell beneath my feet — or as Ezra Pound put it:

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas.

Tickets to this weekend’s concerts are available from The Granada box office at 1214 State St. or 805.899.2222, or click here to order online.

— 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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