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Santa Barbara Symphony to Perform World Premiere by Local Composer Robin Frost

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On Saturday, March 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 20 at 3 p.m., the Santa Barbara Symphony presents Gilles Apap, international superstar and former symphony concertmaster, as he returns for his first-ever performance of Khachaturian’s virtuosic Violin Concerto. Apap will also perform the world premiere of acclaimed Santa Barbara pianist and composer Robin Frost’s Concertino for Solo Violin and Orchestra. The program will close with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a musical stroll through an unforgettable art collection.

“I am honored to have my Concertino played by a violinist of the stature of Gilles Apap,” said Robin Frost. “With the encouragement of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s first concertmaster, Stefan Krayk and now the performance of another of the Symphony’s concertmasters, Gilles Apap, this piece of music spans the generations of the Santa Barbara Symphony and will hopefully inspire many more to come.”

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Gilles Apap

“We are excited to welcome Gilles back to play with the Symphony,” said Nir Kabaretti, Music and Artistic Director, Santa Barbara Symphony.  “He’s such a wonderful, multi-talented and fascinating artist, and we’re thrilled to present his first-ever performance in the virtuosic Khachaturian piece as well as the world premiere of the Frost Concertino, which we chose as a way to bring to Santa Barbara a fusion of new, beloved and challenging classical works.”

Hailed as “a true violinist of the 21st Century” by Yehudi Menuhin, violin virtuoso and pedagogue, Gilles Apap is a classical violinist who is in great demand as a soloist with orchestras around the world. Among many are the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Boston Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. He has also become widely known for his extraordinary ability to integrate a variety of musical genres. Apap not only crosses boundaries, he unites music with his distinct talent for incorporating styles of music as diverse as American old-time, Irish and Gypsy fiddling, with the standards of the classical repertoire.

Born in Algeria, Gilles Apap was raised in Nice, France, where his violin studies commenced with Andre Robert. He continued his education at the Conservatoire de Musique de Nice with Gustave Gaglio and then at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Lyon with Veda Reynolds. He traveled to the United States to attend the Curtis Institute of Music and chose to live in California, where he still resides. Apap was later appointed Concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony and served in that position for over a decade.

Apap’s talent was recognized by Yehudi Menuhin in 1985 when he won the Contemporary Music Prize at the prestigious International Menuhin Competition. Lord Menuhin later invited him to perform in Berlin at the Philharmonie Hall for the Enescu Foundation, a performance which took place the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

With his first ensemble, The Transylvanian Mountain Boys, Apap shook the classical music scene with his unique interpretations of classical works arranged for violin, viola, guitar and double-bass interspersed with traditional folk tunes. Apap once again rocked the classical music community in 2006 when an excerpt from the film “Gilles Apap Plays the Mozart Violin Concerto No.3” showing him playing his unique cadenza to a Mozart violin concerto appeared on YouTube.

As a soloist, Gilles has appeared with the Berliner Symphoniker, the Bern Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Istanbul Symphony, Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, Geneva Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre d’Ile de France, Russian National Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, Vancouver and Winnipeg Symphonies, Tokyo Mozart Players, Boston Philharmonic and many others.

Apap is a much sought after teacher of workshops and Master classes and has taught at the Music Academy of the West, Indiana University, Malmo Music Academy in Sweden, La Grenier de la Mothe in France, Lisbon University in Portugal, Geneva Conservatory in Switzerland, the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp, Festival Aguascalientes in Mexico, among others.

In the fall of 2006, Apap joined internationally acclaimed Irish fiddler Kevin Burke in a U.S. tour with the Celtic Fiddle Festival. He has also worked with Indian classical violinist Dr. L. Subramanian, gypsy musician Roby Lakatos, jazz violinist Didier Lockwood and flamenco dancer Belen Maya. Apap continues to create a harmonious fusion of his two great musical passions, classical and folk music.

Robin Frost was born in Washington D.C. in 1930. Frost’s father was an amateur violinist, a patron of the arts and had a winter home in Ojai, California. In 1926, Mr. Frost, along with Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, sponsored one of Ojai’s first musical events, the Ojai Valley Festival of Chamber Music, which drew performers and audience from both the East and West coasts.

Frost took piano lessons and composed music as a child and teenager. His first successes at writing for orchestra were for his high school and for the Stanford Football Band when he was fourteen. He wrote the graduation march for the band to play at his high school graduation. In 1952, Frost attended Darius Milhaud’s master classes at the Music Academy of the West. After joining the navy, Frost played the piano when on liberty and upon discharge, he joined the musicians’ union.  He was hired by a band led by “Rosy” (James Eugene) MacHargue, a jazz clarinetist. Frost took up the cornet and began imitating Bix Beiderbecke, one of the most famous jazz cornetists in the 1920s. He learned to play the cornet and piano at the same time and played with a band in Santa Barbara.

As a composer, Frost has written many orchestral, chamber and choral works including chamber music for three or four string quartets, sextets, octets, music for brass, piano and horn concertos and several sets of variations for orchestra.

Before moving to Ojai from Santa Barbara in 1988, Robin divided his time between working in the commercial recording industry as an arranger and music director and teaching music and directing the choir at St. Anthony’s Seminary.

Frost began writing the Concertino for Solo Violin and Orchestra many years ago under the encouragement of one of the founders of the Santa Barbara Symphony, Stefan Krayk, who read through two movements with a student orchestra at Cal-Arts. A Warsaw-born violinist and conductor, Krayk was the Symphony’s concertmaster until 1981, and a Professor of Music at the University of California in Santa Barbara from 1950 to 1977. The trombone theme in the third movement of the Concertino was inspired by a hike over the Hanakapiai trail on the westernmost island of Kauai, when Frost looked out over the sea and imagined the first Polynesians approaching the island.

Aram Khachaturian was one of the leading composers of the Soviet Union and the most celebrated musician of his native state of Armenia. When he arrived in Moscow in 1921 from his home town of Tbilisi, he had had virtually no formal training in music, but his talent was soon recognized, and he was admitted to the academy of Mikhail Gnessin, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov. Khachaturian’s first published works date from 1926; three years later he entered the Moscow Conservatory. His international reputation was established with the success of his Piano Concerto in 1936, composed at the same time that he became active in the newly founded Union of Soviet Composers. In 1939, he returned to live for six months in Armenia, where he immersed himself in the folk music of his boyhood home in preparation for composing the ballet Happiness. Khachaturian remained a proud and supportive Armenian throughout his life, serving in 1958 as the state’s delegate to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. “My whole life, everything that I have created, belongs to the Armenian people,” he once said.

Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto of 1940 is imbued with the music of his Armenian homeland. The Concerto was a great success when it was premiered on November 16, 1940 in Moscow performed by David Oistrakh. The new Concerto solidified Khachaturian’s popularity at home and abroad; he was awarded the Stalin Prize for it in 1941.

The Concerto’s opening movement is disposed in traditional sonata form, with two contrasting themes and a full development section. After a brief introductory outburst by the orchestra, the soloist presents an animated motif that soon evolves into a bounding, close-interval folk dance. This theme, punctuated once by the strong orchestral chords from the introduction, continues for some time before it gives way to a lyrical complementary strain of nostalgic emotional character. As the movement unfolds, the soloist is required to display one dazzling technical feat after another, culminating in a huge cadenza that serves as the bridge to the recapitulation. Both of the earlier themes are returned in elaborated settings to round out the movement. The second movement is in a broad three-part design prefaced by a bassoon solo that Grigory Shneerson, in his study of Khachaturian, said imitated the improvisations of the Armenian ashugs, or bards. A melancholy tune occupies the movement’s outer sections while the central portion is more animated and rhapsodic in nature. The finale is an irresistible rondo, filled with festive brilliance, blazing orchestral color and sparkling virtuosity.

With the spirit of nationalism sweeping across Europe, Modest Mussorgsky was one of several young Russian artists that banded together in the years around 1850, to rid their art of foreign influences in order to establish a distinctive nationalist character for their works. Leading this movement was a group of composers known as “The Five,” which included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Mily Balakirev and Mussorgsky. Among the allies that “The Five” found in other fields was the artist and architect Victor Hartmann, with whom Mussorgsky became close friends. Hartmann’s premature death at 39 stunned the composer and the entire Russian artistic community. Vladimir Stassov, a noted critic and the journalistic champion of the Russian arts movement, organized a memorial exhibit of Hartmann’s work in February 1874, and it was under the inspiration of that showing that Mussorgsky conceived his Pictures at an Exhibition, originally written for piano.

The movements mostly depict sketches, watercolors and architectural designs shown publicly at the Hartmann exhibit, though Mussorgsky based two or three sections on canvases that he had been shown privately by the artist before his death. The composer linked his sketches together with a musical “Promenade” in which he depicted his own rotund self shuffling — in an uneven meter — from one picture to the next. Though Mussorgsky was not given to much excitement over his own creations, he took special delight in this one. Especially in the masterful transcription for orchestra that Maurice Ravel did in 1922 for the Parisian concerts of conductor Sergei Koussevitzky, it is a work of vivid impact to which listeners and performers alike can return with undiminished pleasure.

The concert sponsor for the Santa Barbara Symphony’s March 2011 concert is The Samarkand. Artist sponsors are Frank and Amanda Clark Frost and the media sponsor is the Santa Barbara Independent.

All Santa Barbara Symphony concerts begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $25 to $95. For the rest of the season, patrons are encouraged to design their own subscriptions. To purchase, call the Symphony office at 805.898.9386 or order online. To purchase individual concert tickets, call The Granada Box Office at 805.899.2222. All Symphony concerts are held in The Granada at 1214 State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

About the Santa Barbara Symphony

Celebrating 58 years of great music, the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra Association was founded on the belief that a special city deserves a special orchestra. The Symphony has been celebrated for its unique ability to deliver brilliant orchestral concerts while maintaining a strong commitment to education and community engagement. With audiences almost twice the size of any orchestra in the Santa Barbara area, the Santa Barbara Symphony is, according to Mayor Helene Schneider, “A jewel in Santa Barbara’s crown.”  For more information, please go to www.thesymphony.org.

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