Symphony rehearses for an audience in advance of concert
The sound of “Triumph” was in the air.
There was no mistaking it as the Santa Barbara Symphony performed a fast and expressive symphony Thursday at The Granada for its first audience since the pandemic started.
The performance was actually a rehearsal of the upcoming “Triumph” concert. The musicians and their conductor, Nir Kabaretti, were dressed informally, and COVID-19-procedures were strictly followed, right down to the masks on the string players. (The wind players stood behind plexiglass shields.) The audience, made up of symphony supporters and media, was kept small and up in the auditorium’s balcony.
Before the first note was played, Kathryn Martin, the symphony president and CEO, thanked the supporters and encouraged them not to hold back on its enthusiasm.
“It’s been over 14 months since these incredible musicians have heard applause,” Ms. Martin said. “So we invite you today when you are moved, not to hold back, to show them you are here. This is a rehearsal; it’s not being recorded. Your applause will not disturb them. So don’t hold back.”
After Ms. Martin welcomed the audience, Maestro Kabaretti, the symphony’s music and artistic director, talked briefly about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Opus 92. It’s part of the “Triumph” concert, which was recorded without an audience at The Granada and will stream at 7 p.m. this Saturday and 3 p.m. May 16. (To purchase tickets and watch the concert online, go to thesymphony.org/concerts-events/subscriptions-tickets.)
Maestro Kabaretti told the audience that the Beethoven symphony has survived many pandemics, wars and revolutions.
He noted that the stage had been extended to allow for social distancing for a medium-size orchestra, which means each musician has her or his own music stand. He added that most of the musicians were fully vaccinated.
“Everybody had to show a negative test (for COVID-19) as of yesterday.”
Then he discussed the Beethoven symphony, which he called “among the fastest, if not the fastest, symphony by Beethoven.”
That became clear as the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which seemed to reflect the legendary composer’s full range, from a sweetness similar to his “Pastoral Symphony” to the urgency found in his Fifth Symphony. There was also the sense of celebration that you’d find in Beethoven’s choral Ninth Symphony.
Certainly the dynamics varied, both gracefully and powerfully. At times, the symphony was extremely playful or legato. Then as the music grew fast and louder, the violinists and violists leaned forward in their chairs and played with energy. The music became like beautiful thunder in The Granada, where you could feel the power of the strings, winds and timpani.
The rehearsal clearly left an impact on the audience, who applauded between the movements. (Normally applause doesn’t come until the very end of a symphony, but this was a special afternoon.) At the end, the audience quickly rose to its feet and gave the symphony a standing ovation.
Clearly it was a day of “Triumph.”
Maestro Kabaretti agreed that “Triumph” is the right word.
“It’s been a rough year for our industry, and many orchestras didn’t do anything since March 2020,” he told the News-Press before the rehearsal. “We’re lucky to have a group of dedicated people who make this happen. Now, looking at the (COVID) numbers and vaccines and things opening up, it’s time for us to be back.
“We miss the audience,” he said, adding that the symphony was thrilled to be able to play before a small group of supporters for Thursday’s rehearsal. “There’s an energy coming from the stage to the hall and from the hall to the stage. We need this energy,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “It’s less exciting when you play for yourself when you play for somebody else.”
Maestro Kabaretti explained Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was chosen to honor the composer for the 250th anniversary of his birth. That anniversary was in 2020, but the pandemic affected the orchestra’s plans to honor Beethoven.
“Because of COVID, we could not do a lot of our Beethoven programs,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “This (Symphony No. 7) is a leftover from Beethoven celebrations.
“Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is very positive and very glorious,” the conductor said. “The last movement is somewhat heroic. It feels like a triumph.”
Maestro Kabaretti said the feeling of triumph is especially true given all the adaptations the symphony had to make during the pandemic.
In another moment of triumph, the May 15-16 concert will feature renowned pianist Awadagin Pratt as the soloist for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major.
“It’s in the middle of Mozart’s piano concertos. He wrote 25 or so,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “He (Mr. Pratt) is a fabulous pianist and a very dedicated musician. I’ve performed with him in the past.
“He’s played for Obama at the White House,” Maestro Kabaretti said.
The Santa Barbara Symphony concert will also put a spotlight on Joseph Malvinni, a 13-year-old Santa Barbara student, as the guitar soloist for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto for Guitar in D Major. Joseph was one of the four winners of the 2021 Santa Barbara Youth Symphony Concert Competition.
Maestro Kabaretti praised Joseph for his mature approach to music and his mastery of the guitar concerto. “I thought, ‘Wow, he really owns it.’ I was able to work him a little bit remotely as the conductor, and he’s on top of the piece. I think this guy will go very far.”
The concert also includes Britten’s Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury, which Maestro Kabaretti said is ideal for the pandemic’s social distancing requirements.
“Britten wrote that the trumpets should be as far away from each other as possible,” Maestro Kabaretti said.
The conductor expressed optimism that the symphony will perform a concert in front of an audience by October at The Granada, although with a limit on capacity because of the pandemic.
But there was no mistaking the sound of triumph in Maestro Kabaretti’s voice.
“I’m encouraged by the (COVID) numbers.”