Monday, January 16 , 2017, 8:29 am | Fair 44º


Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Orchestra Salutes Heiichiro Ohyama and Santa Barbara

Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama will mark his 30 seasons as music director of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra with a special concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West.

Heiichiro Ohyama
Heiichiro Ohyama, music director of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. Has it really been 30 years? (Tsuru photo)

The concert will showcase the SBCO wind players and will include the world premiere of a work by Los Angeles-based composer Gernot Wolfgang, commissioned in Ohyama's honor.

The program of the celebration consists of Richard Strauss' Serenade for 13 Winds in Eb-Major, Opus 7 (1882), Wolfgang's Santa Barbara Suite (2014) (world premiere) and Antonín Dvořák's Serenade for Winds in D-Minor, Opus 44 (1878).

It used to be said that the only person who doubted the reality of the "Philadelphia Sound" — lush, colorful, smoothly extroverted — was the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy insisted on the right of his orchestra to sound how the score dictated it sound.

Ohyama has made the same insistence on behalf of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. Often, indeed, the SBCO doesn't even sound like a "chamber" ensemble, since it has been a trademark of Ohyama's tenure to program works composed for a full symphony orchestra and to give as good an account of them as any big-name band in the world. Whatever he is conducting, he takes the orchestra to the heart of the work and gets them burning like a blue flame.

As much as I admire Ohyama, I cannot see him becoming the object of a personality cult. He keeps his private life very private, and his public persona is the opposite of the kind of wild-haired, flamboyant ego-maniacs we are used to seeing on the Arts pages and gossip columns. He is a serious man, seriously devoted to his craft, and we have been the direct and continuous beneficiaries of this seriousness for the past three decades. Long may he reign.

Wolfgang lives and works in Los Angeles, but since he is married to Judith Farmer, principal bassoonist for the Chamber Orchestra, he has spent a fair amount of time here, wandering around the town while his wife rehearses, dining with her in our fantastic restaurants, casting a painter's eye on the Spanish architecture. His Suite's four movements each speak to a different aspect of the Santa Barbara condition. From the look of it — not having heard the piece — he has chosen with great insight and affection. The four movements are called: I. "Fanfare for Heiichiro/State Street," II. "Tea at the Biltmore," III. "Moon Over Santa Barbara" and IV. "La Super Rica." (When I have to be away from Santa Barbara, I miss mainly my friends and La Superica.) Wolfgang's musical affiliations are eclectic and benign.

Strauss was 18 when he wrote his Opus 7 Serenade. It was his first composition to impress the music world at large. The famous conductor Hans von Bülow was very impressed indeed, and made Strauss the assistant conductor of the Meiningen orchestra. When Bülow resigned in 1885, Strauss became, at 21, the Meiningen's conductor.

Dvořák's Serenade has a lovely satirical edge to it, though the satire often improves upon the target — which I take to be provincial bands. There are the usual bouquets of melody, as one would expect from this composer, and the whole affair has a light, sunny Sunday afternoon feel to it.

Tickets to this SBCO concert are $48 and can be purchased by calling the orchestra at 805.966.2441 or online by clicking here.

— 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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