Having bid their usual entertaining farewell to the departing year on Dec. 31, the Santa Barbara Symphony opens 2020 on a much more exalted note with concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, both in the Granada Theater.

Music and artistic director Nir Kabaretti will conduct, with the brilliant Israeli pianists Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg as guest artists.
The program will consist of Michael Torke’s “Ash” for Orchestra (1988); an arrangement for piano four-hands and strings of Johannes Brahms’ “Piano Quartet in g-minor, Opus 25” (1856-61); and Ludwig Beethoven‘s “Symphony No. 3 in Eb-Major, Opus 55 ‘Eroica’ (1805).

(The program has been made possible by the generosity of selection sponsors JoAnne Ando, Hans Koellner and Karin Jacobson, and Dr. Robert W. Weinman.)

Michael Torke (born 1961) is an American composer whose music commentators have averred to be “influenced by jazz and minimalism.” However generally accurate this description might be, “Ash” sounds to me more of a composite of Carl Maria von Weber and Alexander Scriabin.

To be a bit more arcane, I am strongly reminded, in this piece, of the music of the Danish composer, Knudåge Riisager (1894-1974). I daresay it is very effective in concert.
There seems to be some dissatisfaction among musicians with this Brahms “Piano Quartet” — as if it were unfinished, or cast into the wrong mold. Arnold Schoenberg had long insisted it was, in fact, a sketch for a symphony, and, in 1937, Otto Klemperer commissioned Schoenberg to orchestrate it as one, the resulting work being then premiered by Klemperer with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Later, this orchestrated version was made into the ballet “Brahms–Schoenberg Quartet” by George Balanchine, and continues to find its occasional way onto concert programs to this day (even people who hate Schoenberg’s music admit he was a deft orchestrator, and Brahms is Brahms, after all).

At around the same time, the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi made a bravura piece for solo piano out of the Quartet’s flourth movement. The arrangement we will hear this weekend was made expressly for Silver and Garburg by the contemporary Austrian composer Richard Dünser, who combined Brahms’s two original versions of the quartet.

I am sure it will be stunning (Brahms is still Brahms, after all).

Opportunities to hear a live performance of Beethoven’s “Third Symphony” — particularly when offered by an ensemble so accomplished as the Santa Barbara Symphony, led by a maestro as dynamic and insightful as Nir Kabaretti — are simply not to be missed.

The primacy of the work’s importance in the history of western polyphony cannot be doubted or denied, although I wonder if anyone reading this can point to any subsequent composition, by any composer, that displays direct influence of the “Eroica.”

Both the”Symphony No. 6 in F-Major, Opus 68, ‘Pastoral’” (1808) and the “Symphony No. 7 in A-Major, Opus 92” (1812) began, almost before the ink on their scores was dry, to produce progeny with a marked familial resemblance to their dams, and both Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 2 in Bb-Major, Opus 52 ‘Hymn of Praise’” (1840) and Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2 in c-minor, ‘Resurrection’” (1894) are unthinkable if not for Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in d-minor, Opus 125 ‘Choral’” (1824).

Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 4 in Bb-Major, Opus 60” (1805-06) invented neoclassicism while Haydn was still alive, almost a century before Prokofiev and Stravinsky began to decant their spicy new wine into elegant Viennese bottles.

Yet, for all its greatness — and it is arguably the greatest symphony ever composed — the “Eroica” stands childless and self-contained, with no traceable antecedents, apparently created ex-nihilo from Beethoven’s genius, sprung like Athena from Zeus’s forehead.

To hear it is to enter a separate universe, wherein we find, as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “on hearing a symphony of Beethoven:” “With you alone is excellence and peace, Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.”

Single tickets to these concerts are $31-$137; They can be purchased at the Granada box office, 1214 State St., by phone at 805-899-2222 or on line from www.granadasb.org.

To get the Symphony’s entire 66th season, go to www.thesymphony.org/performances.

— 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.