Olga Kern

Olga Kern

The Community Arts-Music Association (CAMA) will offer, as their first live event of the new year, a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, founded 75 years ago by Sir Thomas Beecham, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, in the Granada Theater. The orchestra will be conducted by its new music director, maestro Vasily Petrenko, with the brilliant and delectable pianist Olga Kern  — whom we still love from her previous appearances here — as soloist.

The concert’s program will consist of the “Four Sea Interludes, Opus 33a,”  from Benjamin Britten‘s opera, “Peter Grimes, Opus 33 (1945),” Peter Tchaikovsky‘s “Piano Concerto No.1 in Bb-Major, Opus 23 (1874–75), and Sir Edward Elgar‘s “Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma,” Opus 36 (1899).”

Considering that the orchestra is British, with conductor and soloist both Russian-born, it is not surprising to note that the music is about equally divided between the U.K. and Russia, with a slight edge to the Brits.

Those in the audience who are still awake after the Britten will be treated to what is sure to be an exciting and memorable performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto — a warhorse if ever there was one — and which will prove that there is always something new to hear in the most familiar works.

At just under 30 minutes, the “Enigma Variations” are (is?) the shortest of Elgar’s four principal unconcerted orchestral works (the other three being “Falstaff” and the two symphonies), and perhaps that is why it (they) is the one played most often, outside of Great Britain. It is a grand work, full of haunting tunes and passionate outbursts.

Just about the only way you can fail to enjoy the work is to get hung up on the identities of the friends of the composer who are the alleged subject of the work. Elgar gave us only their initials, but we have all their names by now. Very few, if any, of these names mean anything to me, and I venture to suppose that they mean even less to the average American music lover.

Writing about Wyndham-Lewis‘ massive, impenetrable satire, “Apes of God,” in which practically every person the novelist ever knew turns up thinly disguised and with another name, Anthony Powell remarked that, if you knew the person being caricatured, Lewis’ writing was so precise and accurate that it was like the person had suddenly stepped into the room; if you didn’t know the person, the passage evoked absolutely nothing.

Since all the portraits in the “Enigma Variations” are of individuals long dead and completely unknown to the listener, we are unlikely to “recognize” them from Elgar’s pictures. But whatever framework of personal acquaintance Elgar used in writing his “Variations” is completely discardable by the listener. The music is gorgeous, sublime. That’s all you need to know.

Single tickets to this concert are $116, $96, $76, $46 and $36, and are available online at www.ticketing.granadasb.org/15815/15824?promoApplied=true; in person at the Granada Box Office, 1214 State St., or by phone at 805-899-2222. 

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at gerald.carpenter@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.