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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra Strings Play Dvořák, Mendelssohn

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra has reached a level of musicality when anything they play becomes an event and an occasion.
The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra has reached a level of musicality when anything they play becomes an event and an occasion. (David Bazemore photo)

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of venerable maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, plays the second concert of its 2015-2016 season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido.

There will be no guest soloists, as such, but the concert will be introduced by a guest host, Gail Eichenthal, executive producer of KUSC.

There are two works on the evening’s program, both for strings alone: Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 9 for Strings in C-Major, the so-called “Swiss Symphony” (1821-1823); and Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings in E-Major, Opus 22 (1875).

This is a charming and tuneful program, not lightweight but ethereal. If I find it also somewhat haunting, it is because all compositions for string orchestra strike my ear as somewhat ghostly, as if they were materializing from another, more perfect, world.

Right now, I prefer the Mendelssohn. Tomorrow, I might well fall for the Dvořák. At this level of beauty, there is no better or best; no greater or greatest.

Mendelssohn’s Symphonies 1-5 are usually referred to as his “mature” essays in the form. That would seem, by extension, to make the 12 string symphonies he wrote between 1821 and 1823, aged 12 to 14, “immature.”

But, I should ever be so immature. They brim with youthful energy, of course, but so does everything this wonderful composer wrote; his ebullient overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written when he was 16, as much as the rest of the incidental music, written 16 years later. The string symphonies are young, but fully grown.

The model for this symphony is clearly Joseph Haydn, albeit glowing with a sensuality Haydn rarely permitted himself.

It may, indeed, have been a homework assignment (I can imagine the upward leap of his teacher’s eyebrows when he turned it in), but for all its formal grace and perfection, it is still shot through with the magical fusion of classicism and romanticism that is Mendelssohn’s trademark.

Single tickets to this concert are $54 and $64, and they are available at the Lobero box office, by phone at 805.963.0761, or click here to purchase tickets online.

— 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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