Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 12:16 am | Fair 58º


Gerald Carpenter: 2016 Summer Festival Comes to Lush, Romantic Close

Like all good things, the Music Academy of the West’s 2016 Summer Festival comes to an end this weekend, as it has for summers immemorial, with a concert by the magnificent Festival Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at The Granada Theatre.

This year’s concert, however, will serve a dual function as season finale and “Concerto Night, Part II,” showcasing the winner of the annual Concerto Competition, Piano Division: solo piano fellow Anna Han, from Arizona, a student of Robert McDonald at the the Juilliard School in New York. Conducting will be James Gaffigan of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.

After the brief opening work, Sean Shepherd’s energetic Stravinskian Magiya (2013), Han will perform the daunting solo role in the first movement of Johannes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15 (1859).

The concert, and the Festival, will conclude with the irresistibly riotous and lush symphonic suite Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35 (1888).

Sean Shepherd’s String Quartet No. 2 (2016) will receive its world premiere at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival later this month. Writing about Magiya on his publisher’s website, Shepherd says:

“In anticipation of my new piece for the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in its inaugural season and tour with the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, my thoughts naturally drifted eastwards. In writing a piece to precede two pillars of the Russian repertoire, and to be performed also in cities in Russia, I immediately thought of so much music that I adore in the great tradition of the Russian overture — from those of Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet through those of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and many of the 20th century, including Shostakovich’s Festive Overture.

“I also find myself drawn to a specifically Russian sense of magic — or magiya — in the stories, folklore and literature (old and new) of the country, a kind that often gets no explanation or justification; a ‘normal,’ everyday magic. When these tales find their way to the stage (as, for example, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel and Stravinsky’s Petrushka, some of most colorful and most exotic — and some of my favorite — music of the age is the result.”

Brahms’s first Piano Concerto was his first-performed orchestral score and his first orchestral hit. It is a massive work, compelling, powerful and monumental in every way. Since we are only to hear the first movement, the mysterious and lyrical second will have to wait for another occasion.

If there is something like onomatopoeia in the language of music — and most of what our closed eyes picture while we listen to a piece is shaped by literary associations — then surely Scheherazade is the prime example of it. To be sure, the title, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” primes our imagination to put us in the bow of an ancient craft, thrusting into a rolling swell — I always think of the opening of Ezra Pound’s “Canto I”:

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly seas, 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 out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.

But nothing in the literary framework prompts me to suddenly find myself, as I always do, in the green depths, watching air bubbles, flashing and undulating like blobs of mercury, rise through shafts of sunlight towards the tranquil surface.

The whole work is thick with visions like this, made of memories but generated directly from the music. There is really nothing like it.

Tickets to this Festival Orchestra concert are $10 (for community access), $40, $50 and $60 (VIP experience box seat), and they can be purchased at The Granada Theatre ticket office (1214 State St.), by phone at 805.969.8787 or 805.899.2222 or online at

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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