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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 12:27 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Gerald Carpenter: Music Club Treats Us to Betty Oberacker

The next Santa Barbara Music Club concert — free, of course — will feature the piano virtuosity of the incomparable Betty Oberacker, whose recital will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 19, in First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St.

The Music Club, by way of an introduction for an artist who needs none, said:

"Betty Oberacker is internationally acclaimed for her interpretations of both traditional and contemporary solo and chamber music repertoire, and has toured throughout Europe, Israel, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the U.S., including performances at Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic Hall and Vienna Musikverein.

"She has been artist-in-residence at 55 universities, conservatories and music festivals worldwide, and many important composers have dedicated their compositions to her. Her musical gifts were evidenced at three, when she began to play the piano and compose entirely by ear.

"Piano lessons started at age seven, and at nine she was accepted on scholarship as the only child student of the noted pianist Beryl Rubinstein.

"Her BM/MM degrees are from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and her DMA Degree is from Ohio State University, where she was concomitantly a member of the piano faculty.

"Her discography includes Bach’s "Well-Tempered Clavier" (Clavier Records), "A Bach Commemorative Recital" (MIT Great Performances Archives), "Chamber Music of Emma Lou Diemer" (Orion), Schönberg’s "Pierrot Lunaire" (Century), John Biggs’ "Variations on a Theme of Shostakovich" (VMM), and Diemer’s "Piano Concerto" (MMC), the latter two works composed for Oberacker.

"Honors accorded her include a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Italy and the University of California Distinguished Teaching Award, and her students hold important positions as performers and teachers in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

"Dr. Oberacker is UCSB professor emeritus, and enjoys an active performing, teaching and chamber music coaching schedule."

Oberacker will open with two works by Wolfgang Mozart — the "Piano Sonata No. 13 in Bb-Major, K 333 (1784)" and the "Rondo in a-minor, K. 511 (1787)" — and close with Sergei Prokofiev's "Piano Sonata No. 7 in Bb-Major, Opus 83 (1942)," sometimes known as the "Stalingrad."

It is interesting that the four greatest Russian composers of the 20th century — Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich — were all virtuoso pianists, as famous for their concert appearances as their original music.

It stands to reason then that their compositions involving the piano, either solo or concerted, occupy a special place in the catalogues of the four.

This is certainly true of Prokofiev, who took the lead role in the premieres of most of his concertos and sonatas up to the point where physical infirmity made him discontinue the practice (the "Piano Sonata No. 7" was first performed by Sviatoslav Richter, which is not a bad second choice).

There are several somewhat misleading identification tags associated with this sonata. For one, it is known as the middle work of a trilogy of "war sonatas" because it was written during the conflict known to most of the world as World War II, and to the Soviets as "The Great Patriotic War."

Yet the turbulence and dissonance which dominate the first movement seem more personal and ironic than bellicose and martial. (If you want to hear music which actually references the war, you might give a try to Ross Lee Finney's great "Symphony No. 1, 'Communiqué' (1943)."

Plus, Prokofiev's patriotism was never exactly white hot (Shostakovich initially embraced the Revolution, and only soured on it when Stalin took over; Prokofiev fled to the West, and only returned in the 1930s, wooed by the promise of a steady income).

The nickname "Stalingrad" became attached to the work solely because of temporal proximity to the battle which marked the turning point of the war on the Eastern front — and, hence, the entire European theater — and not because the composer was inspired by the momentous event.

In any case, "war music" depends even more heavily than "sacred" music on text and context for its alleged commentary on public (or celestial) events.

If we weren't aware of the words "war sonatas" and "Stalingrad," and the date 1942, we would likely hear this work as a brilliant, fairly typical piece of Prokofiev pyrotechnics — sometimes bitterly ironic; sometimes tenderly lyrical; more French than Russian in influences; more private than public in its references.

This concert has been generously sponsored by Jane Ramsay in memory of her husband, William Ramsay.

— 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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