The Santa Barbara Symphony’s first concerts of 2023 — New Year’s Eve doesn’t count — will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in The Granada Theatre. Nir Kabaretti will conduct, with guest artist Guillermo Figueroa as violin soloist in the concerted work.

Violinist Guillermo Figueroa.
Violinist Guillermo Figueroa Credit: Kim Jew photo

The program, put together by Maestro Kabaretti, who dubbed it “Plains, Trains & Violins,” consists of three works composed in the United States: the “Concert World Premiere” of Elmer Bernstein’s “Toccata for Toy Trains (1957),” in a new concert suite arranged by the composer’s son, Peter; Miguel Del Águila’s “Concerto for Violin ‘El viaje de Una Vida/The Journey of a Life’ (2007)”; and Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E-Minor, Opus 95, ‘From the New World’ (1893).”

Bernstein — composer of “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “A Walk on the Wild Side,” “The Man with the Golden Arm,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and many other films — was, in the 1950s and 1960s, a frequent collaborator with the revolutionary designers, Charles and Ray Eames, writing the scores for their fascinating short films, including “Powers of Ten,” “Six Pieces for the Polavision™ Movie Camera,” “House: After Five Years of Living” and, of course, “Toccata for Toy Trains.”

Many copies of “Toccata” are available on YouTube, and I urge you to watch one of them (or any other Eames film you can find), but if you want to listen just to Bernstein’s score, there are copies of that on YouTube, too, and it is also highly recommended. Many film scores, and some ballets, do not translate to the concert hall very well, but the “Toccata” actually gains by its separation from the images and narration.

As Rodney Dangerfield might have put it, film composers, traditionally, don’t get no respect from conservative music lovers. However, since composers who have the knack for scoring films tend to, for the first time in their careers, make enough money to live on, they can be forgiven for taking the conservative censure with a shrug.

Bernstein, whose knack amounted to genius, became richer than even a hit songwriter from the more than 100 film scores he composed. He bought himself a beautiful home in Hope Ranch, and never doubted that he was a “real” composer — and not “just” a composer, either. He had danced and acted professionally from an early age, he was admired as a painter as well. He was, indeed, a polymath, and whatever art he put his hand to seemed to accept him as to the manor born.

If an intentional one, the fact that Del Águila was born in the same year that Bernstein composed his “Toccata” is one hell of a synchronicity, insofar as this program goes. Aguilar is a dauntingly talented composer; aside from asserting — on the strength of a wide random sampling of his work — that his music unfailingly attracts and pleases the listener.

Listening to this violin concerto, and swearing that I could hear echoes of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, I was not at all surprised to learn that Del Aguilar’s major training took place in Korngold’s Vienna. I also, I hasten to add, am pretty sure I detected traces of our greatest homegrown violin concerto, that of Samuel Barber. If the composer has chosen to emphasize the Latin content of his music, that is hardly surprising from a person with a so distinctly an Iberian name. More surprising is the fact that the composer, born in Uruguay, self-identifies as an unhyphenated citizen of the United States. Latin is not always, or even mostly, the dominant strain in Del Aguilar’s music. Yet he is certainly no mere postmodern magpie. I encourage you to do you own research; you’ll have a wonderful time, if you do.

In 1892, Dvořák traveled to the United States and became director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City, a post he held until 1895, when homesickness and salary shortfalls drove him back across the Atlantic to Bohemia.

In the three years of his residence here, he composed what are arguably his three greatest instrumental compositions: the “String Quartet No. 12 in F-Major, Opus 96, 1893” (the so-called “American Quartet”), his “Cello Concerto in B-Minor, Opus 104, 1894-1895” and “Symphony No. 9 in E-Minor, Opus 95, ‘From the New World’ (1893).” In the latter work, the composer showed American composers how to adapt our folk and popular music into classical forms, more or less inventing the “National School,” including Roy Harris, Samual Barber, Virgil Thomson and others.

Tickets to this concert are $35 to $175 and can be purchased in person at the Granada ticket office (1214 State St.), by phone at 805.899.2222 or online by going to ticketing.granadasb.org/16749.

For more information about this concert, or about the Santa Barbara Symphony, go to its website at thesymphony.org.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.