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Gerald Carpenter: Chamber Orchestra Throws a Party

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra’s 2016-2017 season begins, somewhat unusually, on a Saturday, with a concert, preceded by a party, and followed (no doubt) by thunderous applause.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, in the Lobero Theater. The party, also at the Lobero, starts at 5:30 p.m., and will include wine, signature cocktail, hors d’oeuvres and performances by State Street Ballet celebrating Old Hollywood. (Parties not being my specialty, I refer you to the SBCO's user-friendly website for more information: http://sbco.org/concerts/tickets#OpeningNightParty)

The opening-night program, conducted by Music Director Heiichiro Ohyama, will consist of two works: Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in e-minor, Opus 95 “From the New World” (1893) and Geroge Gershwin's Concerto in F-Major for Piano and Orchestra "Concerto in F" (1925), with Wendy Chen, the youngest winner ever of the National Chopin Competition, as soloist.

While there are many interesting things to be said about either of these works as snapshots of the times and places they were composed, or the decisive impact of either on the development of a specifically American music, but there is nothing of any interest to be said of them as works of art.

Music is either self-explanatory or it is not really music —t hough it may not explain itself entirely on the first, second or even third hearing.

A pretty good case could be made, I think, that Dvořák had the greater influence on the American nationalists like Thomson, Copland and Harris, not to mention film composers like Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross. You can close your eyes during the symphony and imagine you are watching one of those epic westerns of the 1940s and '50s: Red River, Sea of Grass, The Big Country, The Magnificent Seven.

This thought got me wondering about Gershwin, and who his followers might be, if any. Ravel, I guess, and maybe Milhaud and Poulenc, but what about Americans?

Then I thought of George Antheil, one of my favorite American composers, and his Fifth Symphony, the first movement of which is rather remarkably similar to the first movement of the Concerto in F.

I knew a lot of the music from that movement came from Antheil's opera, Transatlantic, a political satire about a presidential election in the USA, so I got out my copy of Antheil's memoirs, The Bad Boy of Music, to see when Transatlantic was composed.

It was commissioned in 1927 and first performed in 1928, two and three years after the debut of Concerto in F. While I was looking for the opera in the index, I spied the name "Gershwin, George," and turned to that page, where I read:

 "After that particular dinner George played for me for the first time on record his piano concerto, just completed, and so did me the great honor of showing me the score to ask my advice upon various parts of it."

Ticket for Saturday's concert are $50 and $60; they can be can be purchased at the Lobero Theatre Ticket Office, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., by phone at 963.0761 or 966.2441, or on line at http://sbco.org/concerts/tickets

— Gerald Carpenter is a Noozhawk Contributing Writer.

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