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Santa Barbara Symphony Celebrates European Composers in America

The 'In the New World' program features three works by European-trained musicians.

The next brace of concerts by the Santa Barbara Symphony — at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at The Granada Theatre — are offered under the title “In the New World.” The title was suggested because all three works on the program were composed in the United States by musicians whose birth and training were European.

Music Director Nir Kabaretti will conduct Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s Theme and Variations, Opus 42, Miklós Rózsa‘s Viola Concerto, Opus 37 and Antonin Dvořak‘s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Opus 95, “From the New World”. Israeli violist Gilad Karni will tackle the solo role in the Rózsa concerto.

It is doubtful that Dvořak’s “New World Symphony” requires any kind of introduction. The other two works, if not their composers, probably will be unfamiliar to most 21st-century audiences.

Korngold (1897-1957) and Rózsa (1907-95) achieved considerable financial security writing film scores, earning their concert works total critical oblivion during their lifetimes. Yet each had a vital and growing career as a “serious” composer before they went to Hollywood.

Korngold even had a hit opera, The Dead City, before he was brought in to rewrite Mendelssohn for the 1935 Warner Brothers version of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream (before the movies came along, writing a successful opera was one of the only ways a serious composer could make serious money).

Rózsa had written several well-received pieces — his Theme, Variations, and Finale Opus 13 has been conducted by Charles Münch, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein, and is still found on programs to this day — before his fellow Hungarian, director Alexander Korda, persuaded him to write the score for the 1938 Knight Without Armour. In 1939, Rózsa went with Korda to Hollywood to complete The Thief of Bagdad, and stayed in California the rest of his life.

Despite his initial success in Tinsel Town, Korngold returned to Vienna and was conducting operas when he got a call from Warner Brothers, in 1938, to come back to Hollywood and score The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.

Korngold went back and wrote the score. Not only did it get him an Oscar, it saved his life. While he was writing Robin Hood, Korngold, who was Jewish, learned that Austria had voted to unite with Germany and become part of the Third Reich. There would be no going home again, at least for a long while. It may be a toss-up whether Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler drove the greater number of artists and intellectuals into the arms of America, but Hollywood in 1933-45 was practically a Middle-European colony.

Korngold’s and Rózsa’s film scores are great music that can be listened to without visual aids. I also have heard a lot of their “classical” music — especially that of Korngold — and I love it. If you like Shostakovich or Janacek or Samuel Barber, you should find much to enjoy in these two works.

Tickets are on sale at the Granada box office, 805.899.2222, or call the symphony office at 805.898.9386 or click here.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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