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Gerald Carpenter: Violinist Kyoko Takezawa, Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra Take on the Romantics

Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama seems to have made it one of his missions as music director of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra to prove that size does not always matter — or, at any rate, that bigger is not always better — when it comes to the number of musicians required to do justice to a romantic orchestral score.

No one who has ever heard him and his magnificent orchestra perform a work by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms or even Mahler, would be moved to suggest that he hire more players. We have been moved, all right, but moved to leap to our feet, applauding wildly. He and his orchestra make enough music to fill two Loberos, with some to spare.

If you have any doubts about the assertions made in the previous paragraph, they will be dispelled at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Lobero, 33 E. Canon Perdido, when Ohama, the Chamber Orchestra and the gifted young violinist, Kyoko Takezawa, perform a program they call “The Romantic Germans.”

The concert fare will include two works: Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in a-minor, Opus 56, “Scottish”, and Brahms’ Concerto in D-Major for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 77 (with Takezawa as soloist).

One has no quarrel with either of these splendid works, but the paring does raise some basic questions about the nature of romance. There’s no question, of course, that Mendelssohn was a romantic, and even if there were, there is no question that Scotland was the most romantic nation in Europe, during the 19th century. The poems of Ossian (James Macpherson), James Thomson (The Seasons), Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, plus the novels of Scott, caused the whole of the continent to fall in love with the bleak, mountainous country north of the Tyne River (here I must declare an interest, since at least a quarter of all my genetic material, and all my mitochodrial DNA, comes from Aberdeen).

But is Brahms a romantic? His friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, was as romantic as they come, and many passages in Brahms could just as easily been by Schumann. Yet, particularly in his large orchestral works, Brahms’ emotions are enigmatic, buried deep in the structural perfection of his music, and emotions are to romanticism what gasoline is to an automobile. As the painter and writer, Wyndham Lewis — no romantic he — says, when he is trying to explain why war is romantic, and dismisses the notion that modern war is too dreary and awful to be romantic:

“It has frequently been contended that Agincourt, or even Waterloo with its ‘thin red line’ and its Old Guard of Napoleonic veterans, was ‘spectacular’: whereas modern war is ‘drab and unromantic’. Alas! that is nonsense. To say that is entirely to misunderstand the nature of romance. It is like saying that love can be romantic only when a figure as socially prominent and beautiful as Helen of Troy is involved. That, of course, has nothing to do with it whatever! It is most unfortunate: but men are indifferent to physical beauty or obvious physical splendour, where their emotions are romantically stimulated. Yes, romance is the enemy of beauty. That hag, War, carries it every time over Helen of Troy.

“The truth is, of course, that it is not what you see at all that makes an event romantic to you, but what you feel. And in war, as you might expect, you feel with considerable intensity.”

I think Brahms would have agreed with Lewis. For all his alleged conservatism, his “classicism,” if you will, he had more in common with the moderns than with the romantics. For Brahms’ emotion, you must look to his chamber music and his songs, and the emotion you find there is always delicate and refined — not at all the uncontrolled passion so prized by the romantics; more like what they called, in the 18th century, “sentiment.” This is best heard, in the Violin Concerto, in the slow movement.

It is true that he looked back for his standards, and strove always to emulate the achievement of previous generations. But that sort of return to first principles is what led to the Protestant Reformation, after all. And it is what Lewis’ sometime friend, T.E. Hulme, meant, when he noted that “... the first attempt to formulate a different attitude being always a return to archaism ...”

Tickets to this concert are $47-$52, and can be purchased from the Lobero box office, 33 E. Canon Perdido, or 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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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