Professional orchestra celebrates with Grammy-nominated soloist during Mendelssohn violin concerto
The Santa Barbara Symphony has a good reason for turning to iconic composers, a Grammy-nominated guest soloist playing a Stradivari violin and talented soloists from throughout its ranks.
The symphony is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
And that means an emphasis on great music at the concerts, set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at The Granada in Santa Barbara. It’s the penultimate concert of the 70th anniversary season.
The Santa Barbara orchestra’s “Platinum Sounds” concert will feature Grammy-nominated American violinist Philippe Quint on Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64. And the symphony will showcase its own players performing Jonathan Leshnoff’s Concerto Grosso, previously commissioned for the symphony’s 60th anniversary.
The orchestra will also perform Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 68.
Nir Kabaretti, the symphony’s music and artistic director, credits the community’s support for the orchestra’s longevity.
“The fact that we are thriving after 70 years means many people and generations have supported this orchestra both by funding it (through donations) and attending the concerts,” Maestro Kabaretti told the News-Press.
“Of course, I think if you compare the orchestra today to what it was 70 years ago, you would find a huge difference,” he said.
He noted the symphony was originally a semi-professional orchestra with retired musicians, students and musicians with non-musical careers.
“Now we have a fully professional orchestra,” Maestro Kabaretti said, noting that evolution has expanded the repertoire that can be played.
The professional talent in the symphony will be highlighted when the orchestra plays Concerto Grosso, which Maestro Kabaretti noted will feature soloists from every section. The soloists are Concertmaster Jessica Guideri on first violin, Ryo Usami on second violin, Trevor Handy on cello, Amy Tatum on flute, Lara Wickes on oboe, Donald Foster on clarinet, Andy Radford on bassoon, Teag Reaves on horn, Jon Lewis on trumpet and Dillion MacIntyre on trombone.
Maestro Kabaretti said the concerto is a good conversation between the principal players and the rest of the orchestra.
He added that he’s glad to present the concerto again for people who missed it when it premiered in 2013.
During its long life, the symphony has been known for its talented guest soloists, and this weekend’s concerts will follow that trend with Mr. Quint playing the violin solo on the Mendelssohn concerto. This weekend will mark Mr. Quint’s fourth time performing with the Santa Barbara Symphony during Maestro Kabaretti’s tenure, and he was a soloist with the orchestra before that as well.
“Philippe is a good friend and a fantastic collaborator,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “Philippe is the one musician who was invited back (as a guest soloist) more than anyone else.”
Mr. Quint is excited about returning to Santa Barbara for the concert.
“Aside from Santa Barbara being one of the most gorgeous destinations in America, the Santa Barbara Symphony is a very special ensemble in my life,” Mr. Quint told the News-Press by phone from Los Angeles.
“We’ve always had great chemistry on the musical level,” the New York City resident said.
He praised Nir Kabaretti, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s music and artistic director, for making the experience special.
“He’s just a terrific musician and an incredible collaborator,” Mr. Quint said. “He’s a friend you want on stage.”
“Nir inspires me in the moment,” Mr. Quint said, adding that he loves the acoustics of The Granada.
Another special element is the instrument Mr. Quint will be playing: a 1708 “Ruby” Antonio Stradivari violin on loan to him from The Stradivari Society in Chicago. It’s one of 650 Stradivari violins still in existence.
“I believe I’ve brought it to Santa Barbara several times,” Mr. Quint said. “The experience is a little bit like having a Mona Lisa at your home.”
Most concertos begin with an orchestra playing before the soloist performs. But Mendelssohn decided to put the soloist in the spotlight from the first note.
“Mendelssohn chopped off the long orchestral introduction. He was probably the first major composer to do that,” Mr. Quint said, adding, “The opening of Mendelssohn’s music is considered to be the most challenging of any concerto. …
“For this particular opening, you have to make sure you’re really warmed up,” Mr. Quint said. “I take extra time to warm up.”
Mr. Quint also described the concerto’s beauty and noted Mendelssohn was ahead of his time with his advanced harmonies.
“This concerto incorporates all the glorious details of the Romantic Era,” he said. “It has everything in it …
“People love the piece,” Mr. Quint said. “I have performed it over 200 times. Every time is like the first time. It has such a tremendous energy — a great amount of beautiful energy that has stayed with people over the centuries.”
Mr. Quint said next year will mark the 30th anniversary of his unofficial debut in America. He said highlights of his career have included winning the Juilliard School of Music’s competition in 1998, recording his first commercial album and being nominated for two Grammys.
“The beautiful thing about our job is that no matter how much you play a Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky concerto, there is never a point of reaching a ceiling,” Mr. Quint said. “It’s just infinite where the music can go.”