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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 5:29 am | Fair 44º


Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Orchestra Takes Us to 18th Century Vienna

The West Coast Chamber Orchestra, conducted by artistic director Michael Shasberger, will play a concert of works by Mozart, Michael Haydn, C.P.E. Bach and Georg Wagenseil at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, at First Congregational Church, 2101 State St., Santa Barbara.

The orchestra, plus guest artists cellist Rebecca Shasberger and the Avanti String Quartet (Tamsen Beseka and Robert Miskey, violins; LaVette Allen, viola; Stephen Green, cello), will perform the following works:

Wolfgang Mozart's “String Quartet No. 3 in G-Major, K-156/134b" (1772); Michael Haydn's “Divertimento in D major, MH 319" (1782); Georg Wagenseil's “Cello Concerto in A-Major, WV 348" (with Rebecca Shasberger, cello); Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach's “Symphony in C-Major, H.659" (1773); and Mozart's “Serenade No. 6 in D-Major for Double String Orchestra, K. 239 Serenata Notturna" (1776).

Not much needs to be said about this program; nothing esoteric or startling about this music. Haydn (1737-1806) was Franz Josef's kid brother, best known as the composer of the "Toy Symphony."

Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-77) was born in Vienna and died there. He spent most of his life, from 1739 to his death, composing operas and music for the Hapsburg court; among his pupils was the ill-fated princess, Marie Antoinette.

C.P.E. Bach is far and away my favorite of Bach's children. All of these composers are likely to have known each other personally, and certainly knew of each other's music.

Virgil Thomson once wrote something to the effect that living music is never as pretty as dead music. I think I know what he was getting at, and to a certain extent, I am prepared to agree with him. It hinges on what he means by "dead" music.

I suppose, in the first place, that he means music by dead composers, music that is familiar and often heard, music that is safely embedded in the soundtracks of our lives and is not going to jump up and bite us.

As a composer, of course, Thomson has a vested interest in framing new works in the most positive light, and I agree with Robert Craft that the living composer should be at the center of musical culture "even though most new music is bad, as it always has been."

On the other hand, all ensembles are faced with an inexorable bottom line — they are troubadours, singing for their supper — and their choice of repertory is bound to take their audience into account.

Getting back to the matter of "dead" music, however, I am afraid Thomson would consider all the works on this program as "dead," and there I have to disagree — though he was both a great composer and a great writer.

All music is dead until someone tries to perform it, and all music that is worth anything is capable of being brought to life if the performer believes in it. It is not a matter of technique — of course, there is a level of skill below which musicians may not fall, but that is considerably lower than flawless virtuosity.

I refer to the matter of soul, more indispensable with music than in any other art. A competent musician who has soul, will always triumph over a dazzling technician who has none.

The players of the West Coast Chamber Orchestra, with superb musicianship and an abundance of soul, cannot fail to revive scores that have lain inert for centuries.

Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 seniors 55 and older, and $10 students for those 19 and under. They can be purchased at the Arlington box office, 805-963-4408, and at the door. Visit www.cieloperformingarts.org.

— 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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