Music Academy of the West, Academy Festival Orchestra
When: Academy Festival Orchestra, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Jeremy Denk recital, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Cost: from $10
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street, and Hahn Hall, Miraflores Campus,
Information: 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org
By Josef Woodard
An orchestra was born, publicly speaking, last Saturday in the intimate Hahn Hall on the Music Academy of the West’s elegant Montecito campus. The Academy Festival Orchestra, each year reconstituted with new student “fellows” involved in a given year’s program, called upon the evergreen and ever-popular sound of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony.
This Saturday, the show moves downtown for an annual ceremonial outpouring in the lavish digs of the Granada Theatre, always a high-profile moment on Santa Barbara’s cultural calendar. But despite the “big house” status of the performance, the AFO will be presenting an unusually adventure-prone program, with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 “The Year of 1905” and a tasty, mercurial morsel of American maverick Charles Ives’ music—“Decoration Day,” from his “A Symphony: New England Holidays—” to open the show.
As with last week’s inaugural showing, Saturday’s concert will be led by the Music Academy’s customary season-opening conductor Larry Rachleff, who called himself and “the ‘opening act,’” arriving before a list of top other conductors pass through to lead the orchestra during the summer. He sees that his role is “to help develop ensemble issue and music-making principles for the orchestra.” The respected Texas-based and world-traveled maestro teaches at Rice University in Texas and has been known for his advocacy for contemporary music.
Shostakovich’s epic, hour-long 11th Symphony, written in 1857, ostensibly commemorates the Russian Revolution of 1905, but the plot thickens from there. Originally intended for a 50th anniversary timing after the revolution, turbulence in his private life, with his father’s death and a dissolved marriage as well as in the Eastern Bloc—namely, the Hungarian Uprising of 1956–changed the circumstances of its completion and focus.
In contrast to Shostakovich’s more modernist impulses in much of his work, when not censored and forcibly tamed by Stalin, this epic piece has a more romantic countenance. Film score-like sweep and musical pictorialism lines the four-movement score, and the Symphony has been noted for its echoes of 19th century Russian master Mussorgsky.
All in all, “1905” should make for a suitably grand and engaging Granada AFO opener.
Another recommended high pint of the Music Academy roster for next week is an underplayed but important piece of the programming puzzle, a recital by internationally celebrated pianist—and Music Academy faculty member–Jeremy Denk, at Hahn Hall on Wednesday. Listed as a “faculty recital,” the Denk moment on the calendar is actually a high-profile event, featuring the star pianist who just recently performed at the Granada Theatre with violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis, as part of the UCSB Arts & Lectures series. Although Wednesday’s recital is officially sold out, late-breaking tickets may be available.
This year, in fact, marks the tenth anniversary of Mr. Denk’s debut in the 805-area code, with a recital at the Ojai Music Festival in 2009. He has since performed in Santa Barbara many times, including a Campbell Hall performance in 2013 in which he gamely combined Beethoven and the Hungarian Modernist Ligeti.
In Ojai, where he later appeared as music director, in 2014, he blended two radically different piano classics–Charles Ives’ “Concord Sonata” and Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” In an interview, he slyly admitted “I guess I do have a slightly perverse notion of what’s allowed together. I do like that kind of programming. First of all, I like the variety of it, and I like the conflict of two seemingly bizarrely unrelated worlds, and then teasing out what is actually in common between them.
“When I did the Concord Sonata and (Beethoven’s) ‘Hammerklavier,’ I think that was clear, and doing the Ives First Sonata before the Goldberg Variations was a lot of fun. One seems to tear the world apart, but then the Goldberg seems to repair the damage you’ve done. The Goldbergs are so serene, in a way, and kind of ideal and Olympian that anything down and dirty really works well with that.”
In another interview, I asked Mr. Denk—who garnered kudos for his blog “Think Denk” as his musical star began ascending in the late ‘00s—if he considered himself a kind of evangelist for classical music. “I suppose that’s true,” he mused. “I’m always impatient, because it always seemed to be so obvious that music has all these great possibilities and changes, and rewards constant rethinking. Sometimes, and I’ve written about this on the blog, I am frustrated by the way people talk about classical music. It seems to conceal that element of music.
“I don’t know if that’s evangelism. I just know that like to talk about classical music on my own terms, not necessarily according to the style of the typical discussion about it.”
When I suggested that, as per his blog title “Think Denk,” that he is categorically a thinking thinking person’s musician, as contemporary pianists go, he laughed, saying “I try not to think too much, but sometimes, I just can’t help myself.”