Ted Nash playing saxophone. He has glasses and gray hair, and is wearing a dark suit with a white shirt.
Jazz saxophonist Ted Nash.. Credit: Courtesy photo

The Santa Barbara Symphony invites community members to escape the mundane and experience the power of musical Transformation, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 3 p.m. Feb. 19. Patrons also can attend Conversations with Kabaretti, a pre-concert talk with special guest Ted Nash at 2 p.m.

Inspired by life’s many examples of transformation, Nir Kabaretti, Santa Barbara Symphony music and artistic director, has created a program designed to lead audiences through a transcendental experience of symphonic sound.

From Maurice Ravel’s compelling “Boléro,” to Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” about human transitions; to jazz saxophone legend Nash’s personal journey as depicted in his newest composition “Transformation for Symphony Orchestra and Narrator,” the program exemplifies the potential of musical metamorphosis.

“It is a tremendous honor to make music with such a high caliber musician like Ted – a close collaborator of Wynton Marsalis and a leading player in the world-class Jazz at Lincoln Center Big Band,” Kabaretti said.

“When Ted told me about his ‘Transformation’ project and I had a chance to listen to the show, I asked him if he would transform this project for the classical concert hall. He graciously agreed, and we are thrilled to be the ones to share this world premiere with you,” he said.

The program opens with “Variations on a Nursery Song for Piano, and Orchestra, Op. 25” by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi, and closes with Maurice Ravel’s famed “Boléro,” with Ted Nash on saxophone. These two pieces represent both physical and mechanical metamorphoses with simple tunes that evolve into complex and imaginative orchestral masterpieces.

“It’s not often that we bring together such a big orchestra, but that’s exactly what both Strauss and Ravel envisioned,” said Kabaretti. “‘Boléro’ is the definition of perfect orchestration and musical development. A full orchestra playing together can demonstrate all the dramatic sounds, and truly transform audiences through music, which is what makes the symphony orchestra such a treasure for humanity.”

Patrons will also experiece a rethinking of Nash’s 2021 collaboration with actress, activist, and jazz lover Glenn Close, “Transformation: Personal Stories of Change, Acceptance, and Evolution.”

In its new incarnation called simply, “Transformation,” together with the tone poem “Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24″ (1888-89) by German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949). These two works speak through different musical prisms and centuries of mysteries psychological and spiritual about human transition and re-birth.

Strauss meditates on unconscious, mystical transformation, while Nash’s Dear Dad,” one of four sections in his “Transformation” suite, is about conscious, purposeful transition. Together, the four works on this program offer minds and ears thought-provoking examples of physical and metaphysical change. 

 A progeny of a well-known family of jazz and studio musicians in Los Angeles, Nash has become one of the most significant jazz composers of the 21st century. He is co-founder of the New York-based nonprofit Composers Collective, and is a long-standing member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. 

Nash composed the music for “Transformation: Personal Stories of Change, Acceptance, and Evolution,” while Close found pertinent texts and stories about transformative experiences she could narrate to “inspire, and basically comfort our audience.”

Nash, on solo saxophone, joined by the Los Angeles-based Josh Nelson Trio, will perform his new version of “Transformation” with the symphony, including two new pieces, and the world premiere of Nash’s extensive orchestrations.

​​The symphony’s Natasha Kislenko, principal piano, and a local musical virtuoso and faculty member at UCSB and the Music Academy of the West, will also demonstrate the power of transformation through a piece on the piano, playing variations on a theme everyone in the audience will recognize – Twinkle, Twinkle.

In collaboration with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and inspired by the “Transformation” theme, Nash is also leading an educational program in January and February. Members of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Youth Ensembles will be among the local student musicians benefitting from the exploratory musical experience.

“This workshop is much more than a music lesson,” Kabaretti said. “With his unique style, Ted shares the concept of transformation with students, allowing them to connect music to their own real-life experiences. Through this connection grows a belief in one’s musical skills and growth as a human being.”

For more about the Santa Barbara Symphony’s 2022-23 season, click here or call 805-898-9386.