London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Harding and Elim Chan.
When: Friday night, the “Voyager” family concert and Saturday, symphony concert, at the Granada Theatre; Sunday, “Community Concert” at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
Cost: from $10
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street, and Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 Milpas St.
Information: 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org
This weekend, the British are coming, and it will be an entirely benevolent, welcome, and culturally-enriched incursion. In what one of the clear highlights of Santa Barbara’s classical music year, the London Symphony Orchestra—one of the world’s greatest–is in town to performed three concerts, as part of a new partnership with the Music Academy of the West.
After settling into the Granada, with the “space-themed” family-oriented “Voyager” concert tonight and a symphony concert on Saturday, the LSO heads to the friendly expanse of the Santa Barbara Bowl. The Bowl show, with the accessible sounds of music by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” is tailor-made for a more general audience, in a “Community Concert” format akin to those performed there by the New York Philharmonic in recent years, during its partnership with MAW.
While a major coup for Santa Barbara, and the Music Academy, on a broader scale, this fruition of the LSO’s connection here is also the first major “LSO Discovery partnership” in the United States. According to Kathryn McDowell, the LSO’s Managing Director, “each project or partnership we have is tailored to the specific needs of our partners, this can be coaching young musicians, but it can also be working with music teachers on developing their skills. With this special partnership with MAW is the first time we have brought young people from an international project to our London home, giving them extraordinary access to the LSO and (current LSO music director) Sir Simon Rattle.
“It was thrilling to see the MAW students playing alongside LSO musicians in January of this year during their weeklong stay with us, when the Fellows received coaching, and audition training, and an opportunity to perform chamber music at LSO St Luke’s, our centre for learning, and smaller scale performance. While we are in Santa Barbara this time some of our players will be working closely with a new intake of students sharing skills and experience.”
One major change in the summer residency is the conspicuous absence of maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, involved with the LSO for nearly a half century, and who is finishing 25 years heading up the San Francisco Symphony next season. MTT had a successful heart surgery this summer and was forced to cancel commitments, including in Santa Barbara. Quickly, the LSO’s lofty conductor rolodex was put to good use, and MTT’s role on Saturday and Sunday night were filled with the orchestra’s Principal Guest conductor Daniel Harding and up-and-coming Elim Chan (both of whom have conducted for the Music Academy in the past).
Ms. McDowell explained that MTT is “one of the LSO special family of conductors. MTT celebrates an extraordinary 50-year association with the LSO next season and so he is without doubt a hugely significant part of the LSO history and an important link to the past.” She added that “the alliance amounts to one of the great music partnerships in the last century.”
Saturday night’s concert, conducted by Mr. Harding, features Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, along with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and a short piece by MTT himself, “Agnegram.” Taking the soloist role for the Beethoven is celebrated violinist James Ehnes, a Canadian-born musician who has worked in the upper echelon of the global classical music world for years. The News-Press checked in for an interview.
News-Press: Will this be your first time performing in Santa Barbara, and in connection with the Music Academy of the West? And have you garnered impressions of or connections with other musicians inked, six degrees style, with the Music Academy and what it represents?
James Ehnes: This will indeed be my first time performing with MAW, and I am greatly looking forward to it. I have many close friends who are involved with the organization, so I have admired it from afar for many years. And it will be a treat to spend even just a very short time in such a beautiful place. I have explored Santa Barbara a bit as a tourist over the years and absolutely love it.
NP: You have worked extensively with some of the top orchestras in the world, including the LSO. Are there qualities with this orchestra that distinguish it from others you have worked with?
JE: The LSO is one of the world’s great orchestras. They are truly an orchestra of virtuosos, and the technical level of their performances is always astounding, but I am also always so impressed by the passion of their playing. It is always an honor to work with them.
NP: In Santa Barbara, you will be the soloist on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto: is this one of those repertoire works you have played many times, but find renewable pleasure in re-encountering?
JE: Absolutely. I have played the Beethoven probably as much as any concerto, but it is always a special opportunity as well as a great responsibility. I believe it is one of the greatest works of art that we have and being able to bring it to people is a joy and a privilege.
NP: This year, you won a Grammy for your recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto. Would you say that championing and premiering new music is a significant aspect of what you do in music?
JE: Yes; I think it’s important to keep art music a living art form, and I believe some of the composers today (like Aaron Jay Kernis) are great geniuses whose music will live for generations. Being a part of the creation of new music is something I really enjoy.
NP: You were born in Manitoba and raised in Canada. Was there a culturally nurturing environment in Canada that you feel gave you a solid foundation upon which to build as you went out into the world?
JE: Yes, Canada was–and is–very good to me. There is great support for music and the arts in general, and many opportunities for emerging artists. I was also very lucky to grow up in a small but exceptional city, Brandon, which has a first-rate school of music at its university. The training I received there was second to none.
NP: The Music Academy has been called the “Tanglewood of the west,” and combines education with a rich program of notable visiting musicians/mentors, concerts, a produced opera–and now a partnership with the LSO. Do you feel that institutions such as this are an important piece of the puzzle that is the classical music world?JE: Absolutely. Having the opportunity to immerse oneself in an environment such as the one at MAW is hugely beneficial to developing musicians. MAW has a wonderful tradition of fostering great talent, and this new partnership with the LSO is the cherry on top.