Santa Barbara Symphony, Ensemble Theatre Company collaborate on special concert
The Santa Barbara Symphony is taking a creative approach to one of classical music’s greatest stars: Ludwig van Beethoven.
This weekend’s Beethoven concert at The Granada will include a collaboration with the Ensemble Theatre Company’s artistic director, Jonathan Fox. Mr. Fox will direct the West Coast premiere of Ella Milch-Sheriff’s staged monodrama, “The Eternal Stranger,” based on one of Beethoven’s dreams.
Set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, the “Beethoven Dreams” concert will also feature the symphony playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, featuring piano soloist and Ukrainian native Inna Faliks, and Symphony No. 4.
For “The Eternal Stranger,” the symphony will play Ms. Milch-Sheriff’s music while Ensemble Theatre Company actors John Connolly and Nitya Vidyasagar portray a composer and refugee respectively. They will recite the poem “The Eternal Stranger” as those characters while sharing the stage with the Santa Barbara Symphony.
“They will act and move around the musicians,” Nir Kabaretti, the symphony’s music and artistic director, told the News-Press. “We also have visual art so there will be a screen (behind the orchestra).
“It’s really a fascinating project,” the symphony’s conductor said. “It’s by an Israeli composer I really like. She (Ms. Milch-Sheriff) was inspired by a letter Beethoven wrote to a friend where he shared a dream.”
That letter was Beethoven’s letter to his publisher, Tobias Haslinger, in which the composer described a dream he had about a journey to Syria, India, Arabia and finally Jerusalem.
“It’s something that resonates with a lot of people,” Maestro Kabaretti said about Beethoven’s imaginary journey. “It’s finding yourself in a new place with new people.”
Mr. Fox talked to the News-Press about the characters being portrayed by the Ensemble Theatre Company actors as they recite the poem.
He said Mr. Connolly’s character is a composer creating music and confronting his own sense of alienation.
Ms. Vidyasagar’s character, the refugee, also is dealing with a sense of alienation from society.
It’s a universal theme, Mr. Fox said. “We feel we’re a stranger at one point or another from the time we’re born to the time we die.”
He noted the poem is in the score. “Sometimes it’s very rhythmic.”
Sometimes it’s also sung (with the actors matching the pitches of the melody as they speak).
“I think the value of all art is to make us feel less alone,” Mr. Fox said. “Feeling alone is interesting to examine within the context of the music.”
Maestro Kabaretti said Ms. Milch-Sheriff’s music has some Mediterranean elements and uses the full orchestra. “She used pretty much the same orchestra Beethoven would have used.”
Maestro Kabaretti added he’s glad to have Ms. Faliks as the pianist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.
“She’s been on my list for a long time,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “She’s a very artistic person and has a lot of interests beyond music. She’s a very poetic player, sophisticated and smart.”
Another selection in this weekend’s concerts is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, which is less well-known than his other compositions such as his third, fifth or ninth symphonies.
But Maestro Kabaretti said it’s his favorite Beethoven symphony. He added it’s more lyrical and lighter than Beethoven’s dramatic third and fifth symphonies.
He said Symphony No. 4 is happier than Symphony No. 5.
“Beethoven himself liked it,” he said.
Maestro Kabaretti also noted Symphony No. 4 was the first Beethoven symphony he conducted. That happened during an orchestral conducting competition in France before his professional career started.
“I have a long history and nostalgic feeling toward the piece,” the conductor said.