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Gerald Carpenter: Symphony to Sail the Ocean Blue With Selections From Torke, Debussy

Composer Michael Torke creates colorful palettes with music. His “Bright Blue Music” will play April 9-10. (Bryan Hainer photo)

Santa Barbara’s contiguity with an arm of the Pacific Ocean will be celebrated during the Santa Barbara Symphony’s next program, “Sounds of the Ocean,” conducted by Maestro Nir Kabaretti.

The concerts, which feature three sea-oriented works with a lush and creamy Russian concerto in the center, will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 9, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 10, both at The Granada Theatre.

The soloist in the concerto will be violinist Timothy Chooi (who will be featured next month, along with his brother Nikki, in a Chamber on the Mountain concert in Ojai).

As a kind of fanfare, the concert will open with contemporary composer Michael Torke’s “Bright Blue Music” from his suite of five compositions called Color Music (1984-1989) followed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) (featuring Chooi).

After the intermission, we will hear the “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes (1945) and Claude Debussy’s symphonic poem La Mer (1905).

Michael Torke began Color Music when he was an undergraduate at Yale.

“Certain musical ideas make me think of colors. This personal synesthesia contributed its own vibrancy to my attitude towards the material,” wrote in the program notes for “Ecstatic Orange.” 

The five movements of the suite are independent compositions, composed over five years. “Bright Blue Music” comes in the middle.

“Inspired by Wittgenstein’s idea that meaning is not in words themselves,” Torke wrote as accompanying notes for the piece, “but in the grammar of the words used, I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain meaning; rather, musical meaning results only from the way harmonies are used. Harmonic language is then, in a sense, inconsequential. If the choice of harmony is arbitrary, why not use the simplest, most direct, and (for me) most pleasurable: I and V chords; tonic and dominant.

“Once this decision was made and put in the back of my mind, an unexpected freedom of expression followed. With the simplest means, my musical emotions and impulses were free to guide me,” he wrote. “Working was exuberant: I would leave my outdoor studio and the trees and bushes seemed to dance, and the sky seemed a bright blue.

“That bright blue color contributed towards the piece’s title, but in conjunction with another personal association. The key of D major, the key of this piece (from which there is no true modulation) has been the color blue for me since I was five years old.”

There is no program to the piece, neither narrative nor pictorial. The music is very attractive and engaging, in an Aaron Copland-Elmer Bernstein sort of a way, and it’s a genuine wake-up call.

As an overture to the concert, it really draws a listener in, yet I wonder if it might be more practical to play it after the Debussy, to clear the sand and foam out of our heads. Just a thought.

Tickets for these concerts range from $28-$133, with special rates for seniors, students and groups. Discounted student tickets are available for $10 with valid student ID. Single tickets can be purchased from the Granada Box Office by calling 805.899.2222 or visiting 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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