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Review: Bittersweet 40th Anniversary Concert by Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra

Performance, one of utter perfection, was also the orchestra’s last

Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama and violinist Jennifer Frautschi take their bows Monday night during the final performance of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. Click to view larger
Maestro Heiichiro Ohyama and violinist Jennifer Frautschi take their bows Monday night during the final performance of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. ( Photo by [email protected])

Dickens came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . .”

A bright light in Santa Barbara’s artistic firmament went dark last Monday, Oct. 9, after a concert of superb orchestral beauty at the Lobero Theatre by the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra.

Meticulously prepared by maestro Heiichiro Ohyama and lovingly executed by the devoted professional members of the ensemble in homage to the Chamber Orchestra’s faithful audience, but also in tribute to their esteemed conductor of over 35 years, the concert marked a milestone of perfection, but also an end-mark in the history of the orchestra. 

The program, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, in a leisurely but rapturous narrative performance steeped in High Romantic expectation, might have been one of the best performances in this listener’s memory; Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K.216 (Strassburg), a youthful vision of power and resilience (Mozart was 19) performed with staggering energy and finesse by Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, violinist Jennifer Frautschi; and a staple from Ohyama’s enormous repertoire of standard masterpieces, Mendelssohn’s wonderfully descriptive and ultimately heroic Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (Scottish) in an interpretation both humble and prophetic, spoke musical volumes about the proficiency of the musicians and the integrity of their maestro.

A full house of not just appreciative, but epoch-aware music lovers, knowing this might be their last opportunity in a long while to hear an orchestral performance at such a high standard, vouchsafed their bittersweet delight with standing ovation after standing ovation throughout the evening. No accident.

From the opening notes of Siegfried idyll, Wagner’s tender love music for his second wife (Cosima) and their new son Siegfried (1869-1930), the tone quality of the Chamber Orchestra was silken, perfectly in tune, the intellectual and technical attention of each musician focused on providing maestro Ohyama the perfect sonic landscape on which to work his vision.

Tender moments became whispers, heart-exploding climaxes huge and glorious assertions of the magnificent sound that is the takeaway from an extraordinary orchestral experience.

The Chamber Orchestra’s French horns enjoyed a flawless evening – thank the gods, as even the best musicians can have bad nights with that cantankerous instrument.

The winds, beautifully in tune throughout the evening as well, a rare musical golden mean held sway over the evening. Ohyams’s conducting; masterful, spellbinding, inspired.

Two-time Grammy nominee and Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient, American violinist Jennifer Frautschi, dazzled the sold-out Lobero audience as much for her gorgeous, gold shell-patterned evening gown, as her unforced but powerful music making.

Her performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 (Strassburg) was by turns supplicating and robust, tender and tempestuous. The sound of Frautschi’s 1722 Stradivarius (Cádiz), formerly owned by Joseph Fuchs (1899-1997) and on loan to the artist, mesmerized.

Every detail of Frautschi’s straightforward but detailed interpretation filled the room with pure, clean, sometimes adventurous, always smart sound.

Frautschi’s cadenzas throughout the work’s three movements were particularly colorful, even in the softest passages. In other words, this Stradivarius has legs and in Frautschi’s hands, it also has soul!

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (Scottish) is all meat, emotion, apocalypse, and light. Four image-filled movements not only conjure highland and heath, mountain crag and cascading brook, but also something heroic about the Scots and their history, heralded in a triumphant horn tune at the end of the work that somehow celebrates resilience and spirit.

This kind of narrative repertoire from the mid-nineteenth century is Heiichiro Ohyama’s intellectual and emotional home, and the Chamber Orchestra gave him a performance that was electrifying.

The meaty passages were gloriously so, the musicians relishing the opportunity. The deep undertows of the third movement Adagio cantabile were made visible in Ohyama’s hands, while phrasing, sound quality, and expressivity were an ensemble endeavor to perfection.

The last movement raced by without the slightest hesitancy, the orchestra on its virtuoso toes and having a good time making great music together with a great conductor.

Afterward, cake and champagne on the Lobero’s front terrace.

Daniel Kepl has been writing music, theatre, and dance reviews since he was a teenager. His professional expertise is as an orchestra conductor. He will conduct Emeriti Philharmonic on a two week tour of Portugal in early September 2018. To watch Daniel Kepl’s video interviews with California’s diverse arts community visit BravoCalifornia!

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