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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 6:59 am | Fair 42º


Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Symphony Trumps All with Beethoven

Concerts Saturday and Sunday will feature guest soloist and piano virtuoso Hong Xu

The Santa Barbara Symphony, conducted by Music Director Nir Kabaretti, will play its November concerts this weekend at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Granada Theatre.

Beethoven the Thunderer is less important to us than Beethoven the poet.
Beethoven the Thunderer is less important to us than Beethoven the poet. (Josef Michael Steiler portrait, 1820)

The guest soloist will be Music Academy of the West alumnus and piano virtuoso Hong Xu.

The program for these concerts bears the title “Beethoven Emperor,” and there are only (!) two works on it, both by Ludwig van Beethoven: the Symphony No. 6 in F-Major, Opus 68, “Pastoral” (1808) and the Concerto No. 5 in Eb-Major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 73, the “Emperor” (1810). Xu will, of course, serve as soloist in the concerto.

One of the fascinating things about this program is that neither of the works on it bears much of a familial resemblance to any other work by Beethoven, not even — or, especially not — to each other.

The mythological figure most closely associated with this composer is Prometheus, the Titan who gave man the gift of fire (and was punished in a singularly nasty way for his crime). The comparison is apt, but misleading. Beethoven struck plenty of sparks with his music, shot bolts of lightning and made furious thunder. And there is plenty of thunder and lightning in the two works under consideration.

But the Beethoven I have come to love above all others is Beethoven the poet — mysterious, sentimental and sublime. The love of the countryside and nature, so exquisitely expressed in the “Pastoral,” is not the peasant’s love of land, but the refugee’s love of peace and happiness, a love all the more poignant because the poet knows he must return to the turmoil of his work and society. It is a nature poem by one who must have felt he was seeing all this for the last time.

As for the concerto, it is the haunting, gliding second theme that first draws me in, and then the heart-on-sleeve romance of the second movement, which almost sobs. (“Don’t be afraid to show emotion,” John Ford told John Wayne. “It’s the only thing that reaches people.”)

Beethoven took all the pain and sorrow in his life and transformed it into hard-won joy, so that he could truly say, “No one who really understands my music can ever know unhappiness again.” And no music is easier for us all to understand than Beethoven’s.

Tickets are available through 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 contributing writer.

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