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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 6:36 pm | Fair 60º


Review: Santa Barbara Symphony Flows Through the Centuries with ‘Hail to the Violin’

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Guest artist Anne Akiko Meyers, right, and concertmaster Jessica Guideri perform with the Santa Barbara Symphony during its ‘Hail to the Violin’ concert Saturday night. (David Bazemore photo)

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s last regular concert of the 2017-18 season was a Hail to the Violin featuring varied works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Guest artist Anne Akiko Meyers joined the home team for Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, Op. 3, No 8 (R. 522) from 1711, performing alongside concertmaster Jessica Guideri,  and as soloist for Barber’s 1939 Violin Concerto, Op. 14.

The Saturday evening performance closed with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Op. 25, from 1888.

I highly recommend pre-concert talks by Saïd Ramón Araïza, a lively speaker who keeps a brisk pace. 

He briefly tracked the genesis of the violin we know today from the 8th-century bowed string instrument the rebab that Islamic trade spread across north Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, and the medieval rebec. 

The violin we know today “found its perfection early on” in Italy in 1530, prized for its sound and the simple fact that it could play loudly in concert.

For 40 years, Vivaldi directed the orchestra for an all-girls orphanage/conservatory in Venice, and wrote hundreds of concertos for strings to highlight the skills of the young musicians who lived and studied there.

The work that opened the program featured his classic fluidity and sweep. Meyers and Guideri playing side by side made me marvel at what strong musicians those orphans must have been.

In addition to high-quality playing, the piece held distinctive visual interest. 

Had the soloists been men, they would have likely donned plain black attire. 

Meyers and Guideri took the stage in deep blue gowns: Meyers in a cascade of indigo tulle and Guideri in sparkly royal blue with turquoise hair. 

Meyers’ bare arms and shoulders emphasized the athleticism of playing music (especially the demanding Barber). 

And the color of her dress provided a beautiful backdrop for the gleaming 1741 Guarneri del Gesu violin she has been awarded for her lifetime use.

Barber nearly lost his fee for the Op. 14 concerto when the musician for whom he wrote it claimed the third movement was unplayable. 

Though another artist was able to perform the piece, and the work’s sponsor let Barber keep his full pay, it’s apparent why the original musician balked.

Meyers was fully up to the task, splitting two hairs on her bow during a high-speed cascade of notes. 

The bow was skipping across the strings with intense precision and her left fingers moved so quickly it was hard for the eyes to follow!

Some notes were so high, Meyer’s two hands nearly met. Her skill and artistry were evident in the complete absence of any irritating squeak.

Written partly in Europe prior to Hitler’s rise and completed in Philadelphia in 1939, the work evoked for me a rich range of emotion: ambivalence, torment, contemporary human cares. 

Fiery jazz improvisation even came to mind.

The playing was so epic, Meyers broke into laughter at the end, and audience members were launched to their feet.

Her solo encore of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” was enchanting, and a balm after the intense Barber.

Following intermission, the balletic and beloved Rimsky-Korsakov work rounded out the evening.

Despite the typically Russian sound, I found myself wishing the first movement had more “woof.”

The piece is based on “The Thousand and One Nights” tales, which Scheherazade told the sultan with such suspense each night that he let her live another day so he could hear more.

The subsequent movements capture cliff-hanger feelings; always energetic conductor Nir Kabaretti actually “got air” a few times. 

The recognizable melody recurs in the violin, harp, clarinet, oboe and cello throughout the entire work, giving many voices a chance to chime in.

Though this is the last concert of the regular season, the Symphony will perform its rescheduled concert of live music to the silent film “The Red Violin” in June. 

Noozhawk contributor and local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act. She can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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