Beyond tonight’s Opening Night Gala for the Music Academy of the West, the busy eight-week Academy festival schedule kicks off with Monday’s Takacs Quartet concert.
Music Academy of the West Opening Night Gala
When: Gala, tonight, 5 p.m., cocktail reception, 6 p.m., performance, 7 p.m., dinner and encore
Takács Quartet, Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Music Academy of the West Miraflores Campus, 1070 Fairway Rd. in Montecito
Cost: Starting at $500, Takács Quartet, starts at $10
Information: 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org
As the order of things has come to be expected, the eight-week summer pageantry that is the Music Academy of the West festival program opens in stages. In some ways, the grand opening in terms of its general public interface occurs with the first of many orchestra concerts at the Granada Theatre, starting on June 29. In terms of a kickoff concert, the Takács String Quartet continues its tradition of performing on the first Monday night of the season, at Hahn Hall.
As the Takács quartet’s first violinist Edward Dusinberre told the News-Press, “some of our very happiest times are spent at the Music Academy. The full-time faculty here achieves an unusual mixture of informality and music making of the highest quality. As a result, we always find Santa Barbara a great place to recharge and be freshly inspired after the stresses and strains of touring during the regular season.”
Santa Barbara becomes a place to recharge for many high-profile musicians by summertime. For classical music aficionados, the Music Academy allows a powerful charging phenomenon in what would otherwise be a hibernation period.
From yet another, in-house perspective, it all starts tonight with a gala event which could hardly be called a “soft launch.” Two years ago, the Gala—a combination reception/concert/dinner/tribute—featured the world-laureled likes of pianists Yuja Wang and Jean Yves Thibaudet, timed with the Academy’s becoming an all-Steinway operation. This year, the Gala spotlight turns again to the piano, and specifically a tribute to the great performer-mentor Jerome Lowenthal, celebrating his 50th year on the faculty of the Music Academy—some kind of record.
Mr. Lowenthal’s stellar legacy and role in the landscape of modern classical piano has found him teaching at Juilliard since 1991 and performing with prominent conductors and musicians (violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Nathaniel Rosen) and in pairings with pianists including Vassily Primakov and Ursula Oppens (also his life partner).
Fittingly, tonight’s musical menu includes short performances by several Academy alumni pianists Elizabeth Roe (’01), Evan Shinners (’09), and Orion Weiss (’00), as well as Ms. Oppens. Mr. Lowenthal himself will also part of the party.
Music Academy president/CEO Scott Reed explained that the Gala’s musical agenda was “curated by Jerry himself. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to honor a Music Academy and community icon. We’re very grateful that Jerry has made Santa Barbara one of his musical homes and look forward to celebrating and honoring at the very special Gala concert and during his time here this summer.”
The Lowenthal tribute is the pre-festival opening to a season with such highlights as the first year of a partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra, a west coast premiere of composer Barbara Higdon’s opera “Cold Mountain,” and special “Mosher Guest Recitals” by soprano Isabelle Leonard, pianist Pierre Laurent-Aimard, flutist Claire Chase, and Edgar Meyer.
One disappointing piece of news for this summer’s program, just prior to its launch, is the cancellation of what would have been Michael Tilson Thomas’ debut appearance at the Music Academy. Mr. Tilson Thomas has cleared away his summer schedule to have a cardiac surgery, planning to be back at the podium in time for his 25th, and final season leading the San Francisco Symphony in the fall.
In Santa Barbara, MTT will be replaced by internationally notable substitutes: Daniel Harding leading the LSO at the Santa Barbara Bowl (on July 14); and composer-conductor Thomas Adès will lead the Academy Chamber Orchestra, with piano soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, at the Lobero on July 20.
For those of us for whom price is an object, Monday’s Takacs concert—with a program of Mozart, Grieg and Bartók–is one of the many events all summer, including the Bowl concert, with tickets starting at $10 (versus the fund-raising Gala, starting at $500).
Among recent high points in the Takács’ four-plus-decade career span was the honor of being the first string quartet to win the lofty Wigmore Hall Medal in 2014, the same year they were involved in a project with Meryl Streep.
The Takács has wended its way through Santa Barbara on many occasions, before becoming a regular feature of the Music Academy season—often in a festival-launching concert slot on the calendar. A dozen years ago, the Takacs endeared itself to local classical music fans—and particularly Bartok fans—by performing all of the great Hungarian composer’s string quartets at the Lobero Theatre. For free.
Bartok, the pride of Hungarian concert music, is a specialty of this quartet, and his Quartet No. 4 is part of Monday’s program, also including Haydn and Grieg. Charter member, cellist András Fejér asserts that even after forty-plus years as a group taking on Bartok, and with “non-stop rehearsing and arguing and talking about it, we need to improve it, because it’s such expressive, dramatic and deeply human music. It’s hard to argue with it.”
Takács, named after departed first violinist Gábor Takács-Nagy, began its life in1975 with a foursome of gifted students at Budapest’s prestigious Franz Liszt Academy. “Two of us are remaining,” Mr. Fejér clarifies. “Originally, we were four Hungarian guys. We moved to America thirty years ago.” Specifically, they moved to Boulder, Colorado, to embark on a long-standing residency at the University of Colorado Boulder. The non-Hungarian population in the group presently consists of violinist Harumi Rhodes and violist Geraldine Walther.
While in Santa Barbara next week, the quartet’s work will move from the concert stage to the classroom and master classes—a commitment to education that has been part and parcel of the group’s life in music.
Mr. Fejér insists that “it’s important to give back something to the community and to the students in general, and it’s also important for your own morale. If you teach, then you have to ponder the problems and face some of the same difficulties. You have to think about what you convey. It keeps your mind extremely fresh and open and young, because you always keep questioning `is this the right thing which I have just told the poor student?’
“You keep thinking about it, and that’s the fascinating part of the project, for any of us. We coach something, we advise something and then you keep thinking about it. Finally, by the next week, you arrive at the conclusion `no, maybe you can do it some other way, as well.’
“In music, there are no single solutions. There are always many ways to phrase and construct.”