On Saturday at Hahn Hall, this season’s Academy Festival Orchestra takes its first bow, to the tune of Beethoven’s “Eroica Symphony.”
Music Academy of the West, Academy Festival Orchestra
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West Miraflores Campus, 1070 Fairway Rd.
Cost: From $10
Information: 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org
This Saturday night marks the debut, or a “sort of” debut, of a brand-new orchestra in town. We’re talking, of course, about this year’s incarnation of the Music Academy of the West’s Academy Festival Orchestra, an ensemble with deep historical roots and a mostly new and fresh-faced personnel each summer.
The Academy Festival Orchestra, drawn from the ever-changing population of high caliber “fellows” culled from around the world to be part of the Academy’s world-renowned summer program. From an audience perspective, it is a known and appreciated cultural sensation in Santa Barbara to encounter each summer’s orchestral harvest of young musicians, and marvel at this necessarily “temporary” orchestra’s power and finesse.
The conductor tasked with the process of working with and getting into shape this old-new orchestra in its initial stage has for many years now been gifted maestro and mentor Larry Rachleff. A busy guest conductor and teacher at Rice University in Houston and formerly at Oberlin Conservatory, Mr. Rachleff is well-known for his educational insights, as well as a history of championing contemporary music.
His breadth of experience and taste serves him well in his annual role at the Music Academy. This season, he makes his first showing of the Academy season at Hahn Hall, performing Beethoven’s ever-popular Symphony No. 3 “Eroica,” before moving to the “Big House” of the Granada Theatre on Saturday, June 29 for an ambitious program of Shostakovich’s Symphony “The Year 1905” and an excerpt from Charles Ives’ “A Symphony: New England Holidays.”
Fittingly, the soloist on hand on Saturday will be Sylvia Qianhui Jang, a winner of last summer’s “Concerto Competition.”
In an interview before his arrival in Santa Barbara, Mr. Rachleff offered that “I believe this is my 11th consecutive summer as the ‘opening act,’ where what I do with the ongoing and growing talent that is MAW to help develop ensemble issue and music-making principles for the orchestra.”
The process is unusual this year in that the orchestra plays its first concert in the smaller, on-campus Hahn Hall, with just a few days of preparation, before advancing downtown to the more ceremonial Granada gala concert.
“Although we are starting a week early,” says the conductor, “we are beginning with Beethoven Eroica in just four rehearsals, really for that reason. The vitamins of that great work can help to teach issues of ensemble, pitch, rhythm, color, breathing and the myriad of areas that come up before tackling the likes of a sprawling symphony like the Shostakovich.
“With that kind of work, many orchestral routines need to already be addressed which a symphony like Beethoven, Mozart, or Schubert, for example, are stronger candidates for that important and necessary role.”
Moving forward in the summer season, the Academy Festival Orchestra will be gracing the Granada stage on several Saturday nights—with conductors including famed Austrian Matthias Pintscher (announced as the music director of next June’s prestigious Ojai Music Festival), Daniel Harding, and Marin Alsop. On July 14, the AFO ascends to the stage of the 4,500-seat capacity Santa Barbara Bowl, on a bill with the mighty London Symphony Orchestra, making its Music Academy debut this summer.
Unfortunately, plans to feature eminent conductor Michael Tilson Thomas shifted due to a cardiac surgery he is undergoing, in preparation for his 25th and final year as head of the San Francisco Symphony next fall.
Given the upper echelon conducting company he keeps on the Music Academy schedule, Mr. Rachleff notes “I am honored truly to join the summer roster of conductors each summer and this one is no different. My hope is always what we create in the first few weeks might linger for the next six weeks regardless of repertoire or conductor.”
Asked if he’s looking forward to returning to Santa Barbara for his brief “summer home” stay, he exudes “I am ecstatic to be returning, though a bit daunted about arriving from Australia on Monday and then starting right away. I hope this is more or less ok.” Judging from his track record, all will be well and good.
Mr. Rachleff’s by-now ceremonial visit to Santa Barbara is a sure reminder that Music Academy time is upon us.