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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Music Club Gives It Away

The Santa Barbara Music Club offers its second free concert of the new season at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, in the Faulkner Gallery at the downtown Santa Barbara Public Library, 40 E. Anapamu St.

Pianist Mao Saito will begin the hour with a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in f#-minor, Opus 23 (1897). Next, oboist Adelle Radkey will play Carl Nielsen’s Fantasy Pieces for Oboe and Piano, Opus 2 (1889) and Georg Phillipp Telemann's Fantasia in e-minor, TWV 40:10 (1732–1733) (written originally for solo flute).

Soprano Deborah Bertling and pianist Kacey Link will bring the afternoon to a sweetly sentimental (and distinctly Viennese) conclusion with a set of three opera numbers they call "What About the Waltz?"

We'll hear Bertling sing "Je veux vivre" from Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (1867) and “Heut macht die Welt Sonntag fur mich" by Johann Strauss, after which she will be joined by baritone Brian Hotchkin for the famous waltz duet from The Merry Widow (1905) by Franz Lehár.

These Music Club events are tremendous democratizers. They are like 19th century salons who have torn up their guest lists and thrown their doors open to the public without restriction (all you have to do is sit still and be quiet — which, if you start listening, is all you want to do anyway). Don't need no ticket, you just get on board.

Classical music may be, as Ferruccio Busoni declared, an "aristocratic art," in that it owes its origin and continued survival to top-down patronage, but a taste for it is likely to pop up anywhere. It all depends on exposure and access.

During the first half of the 20th century, recordings and radio created a large and eager audience, who listened in small groups, in their own (often quite modest) homes. In the 1940s, many classical musicians — some of the greatest — were recognized celebrities in popular culture, often appearing as themselves in music-themed motion pictures.

Throughout the 1950s and early '60s, television tried to carry on the work of bringing classical music — if not to the masses, at least to the suburbs — but it didn't last long. For one thing, television sound was crappy for a long time, lagging far behind the quality of the images; for another, TV cameras crave action, motion.

There isn't much visual value in a classical music concerts, with all the musicians dressed the same (in those years, violist Don McInnes stopped by the home of some friends on his way to play a concert, finding the family at dinner. "Sorry to barge in in my work clothes," he said, splendid in his white tie and tails), and, except for the conductor or soloist, hardly moving (which is one reason Leonard Bernstein lasted so long).

Two broadcasts in late 1963 clarify the fate of classical music on television — not to say in American culture at large. On Nov. 18, 1963, the NBC Nightly News, with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, had a segment reporting on a phenomenon in English popular culture, a brash new rock group from Liverpool called "The Beatles."

Six days later, in a live broadcast Nov. 24, also NBC, Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic and the Schola Cantorum in a performance of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. Camelot was in ashes, that amazing grace all blood-spattered.

In his great memoir Dreamtime: Chapters from the Sixties, Geoffrey O'Brien wonders at the numerous connections torn out by the falling body of the president: one of them was surely the easy passage of classical music through our popular culture.

Even among the intellectuals, the Beatles were taking over. Classical music went first to PBS, and then to holiday programming.

It isn't that classical music has disappeared (except from television), it is flourishing nearly everywhere. It has simply become decentralized, probably forever, if not for good. There are a lot of specialty acts, each with a fanatical following. The music lover doesn't know where to turn, and neither does the musician.

That is why, in this time of flux, organizations like the Santa Barbara Music Club are so important. They maintain standards, and foster creativity. Conservative in their respect for tradition, they are liberal in their generosity to the public and to young musicians. More or less adherent to the canon, they do not shrink from tinkering with it, occasionally.

While organizations like the Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra have fine outreach programs, the Santa Barbara Music Club is an outreach program.

A word about Scriabin and Nielsen. In The Philadelphia Story, McCauley Connors (Jimmy Stewart) says to Tracy Lords (Katherine Hepburn): "I haven't made up my mind about you, yet."

"The time to make up your mind about somebody," says Tracy, "is never."

I try to keep that in mind when I'm thinking about Scriabin. I always feel like I'm missing something, possibly something important and life changing. If his pieces never quite add up, they are nonetheless thrilling to hear, moment to moment, and, like Rachmaninov, even more thrilling to watch.

Nielsen was lucky with winds; most of his best-known and best-loved works feature prominent roles for wind instruments, starting with this one. It was a big hit for him, and he can be forgiven for thinking the worst was over.

For more information on this or other Santa Barbara Music Club programs and performing artists, visit sbmusicclub.org.

— Gerald Carpenter is a Noozhawk Contributing Writer.

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