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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 10:07 pm | Fair 51º


Gerald Carpenter: Symphony Celebrates Romance and The Violin

The Santa Barbara Symphony, conducted by Maestro Nir Kabaretti, performs this month's program at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20, in the Granada Theatre.

The concert is focused on the violin, and will have as soloist, the dazzling fiddler, Anne Akiko Meyers, with vital collaboration from the Symphony's vibrant concert-master, Jessica Guideri.

The program features three works: Antonio Vivaldi's "Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, Op. 3, No. 8 (1711);" Samuel Barber's "Violin Concerto, Opus 14 (1939-40);" and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade, Opus 35 (1888)."

You would have to go some to put together a more romantic program than this. I mean romanticism as the aesthetic movement, of course, not the philosophical stance or the political sentiment.

"Romanticism," wrote the architectural critic, Geoffrey Scott, "may be said to consist in a high development of poetic sensibility towards the remote, as such. It idealizes the distant, both of time and place; it identifies beauty with strangeness.

"In the curious and the extreme, which are disdained by classical taste, and in the obscure detail which that taste is too abstract to include, it finds fresh sources of inspiration. It is most often retrospective, turning away from the present, however valuable, as being familiar.

"It is always idealistic, casting on the screen of an imaginary past the projection of its unfulfilled desires."

That certainly hits the Rimsky-Korsakov on the head: long ago and far away; Arabian Nights. "Scheherazade" is a lush and lavish entertainment. In his own epigraph to his novel, A Dancer in Darkness, the American novelist David Stacton wrote:

"There is no song/ soothes its listeners for long/ except: escape with me."

Rimsky-Korsakov's music raises escapism to breath-taking art. (There are also, in keeping with the program's motto, many thrilling violin solos.)

The Barber concerto comes into it with Scott's last sentence. Barber spent much of the late 1930s living in Italy, which was a kind of Eden for him and his friend, Gian-Carlo Menotti. Then, it became quite awkward for Americans in Italy; he and Menotti had to return to the United States.

Shortly after he got back, Barber received a commission for the concerto, and he poured all of his longing for this paradise lost into the work, especially the second movement.

In the event, the businessman who had commissioned the concerto, for his son, decided it was too hard to play, and stiffed the composer, blowing his one chance at immortality, for the concerto is the most beautiful yet written by an American.

You might think I am stretching it, calling the Vivaldi "romantic," but, apart from the melodic and emotional richness of the work, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Vivaldi's Venice was a magnet for the romantic imagination, a condenser of unrequited longing.

Dreaming of the Venetian past in one of his greatest poems, about the Venetian composer, Baldassare Galuppi, Robert Browning wrote:

"Were you happy?" — "Yes." — "And are you still as happy?" — "Yes. And you?"
— "Then, more kisses!" — "Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?"

This concert is funded in part by the Organizational Development Grant Program using funds provided by the City of Santa Barbara in partnership with the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

Single tickets to this concert start at $29. Tickets can be purchased from the Granada box office, 1214 State St., by phone at 899-2222, or online from www.granadasb.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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