To close out the 65th season, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s weekend concert feature Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet,” Dvorak, and a reprise of music by the late, great Santa Barbaran composer Elmer Bernstein.
Santa Barbara Symphony
When: 8 p.m., Saturday, 3 p.m., Sunday
Where: The Granada, 1216 State St.
Tickets start at $29
Information: 899-2222, www.thesymphony.org
With this weekend’s closing of the current Santa Barbara symphony season—its 65th, but with retirement nowhere in sight—it is fair to say this been a well-balanced diet of a season plan and program.
Heavy, serious fare included last month’s epic, cast-of-hundreds performance of Verdi’s Requiem and last fall’s striking Stravinsky double header of “L’Histoire du Soldat” and “The Rite of Spring.” On lighter turf, the symphony’s new tradition of mixing film screenings with live orchestra landed on the crowd-pleasing bonbon of “Amadeus,” and last October’s season-opener twin blast of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.”
Fast forwarding to the season finale, this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Granada Theatre, SBS leans into a strongly romantic disposition, with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem “Romeo & Juliet” Overture-Fantasy and Dvorak’s Eight Symphony as the last official piece of the season.
Nir Kabaretti, the orchestra’s long-standing music director, commented that “Shakespeare is the author who inspired more composers than any other. A lot of composers just love what they hear in Shakespeare but want to give it another dimension. From the Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet was used more than any other piece. Gounod wrote an opera, Benini wrote an opera with the same story (‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’), and if you’d like, ‘West Side Story’ is still the same story. Also, Prokofiev used ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in a ballet, but Tchaikovsky’s version may be the best known of all of these, with his Overture-Fantasy.”
Beyond those conventional 19th century built-in crowd-pleasers on this weekend’s menu, the program also boasts one of this season’s more enticing choices–and also a bit of in-house archive re-awakening.
We’re talking, of course, about Elmer Bernstein’s song cycle “Songs of Love and Loathing,” commissioned by the orchestra back in 1989 and finally given another live, real-time performance op. Mr. Bernstein, who died in 2004, was a longtime Santa Barbara resident and best-known as one of Hollywood’s legendary film composers. His filmography included the jazz-infused “Man with the Golden Arm,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Far from Heaven” and work for Martin Scorsese.
But Mr. Bernstein also maintained his practice of composing concert music, which he studied, including a vibrant Guitar Concerto for guitarist Christopher Parkening–and performed by the SBS with guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas in 2016–and this song cycle, performed here by mezzo-soprano Leann Sandel-Pantaleo (also seen and heard as Opera Santa Barbara’s “Carmen”).
Speaking about the orchestra’s revival of “Songs of Love and Loathing,” music director Nir Kabaretti pointed out that the score has been languishing in relative neglect for too long. As with many new pieces, a “world premiere” can often be its finale in classical field—and not necessarily for reasons of quality. “I think this is an injustice,” said Mr. Kabaretti, “and we will fix this. We’re in a position to play this really beautiful music.”
He added that “we played Elmer’s Guitar Concerto a few years ago and I’m so happy that happened. It was not written for our orchestra, but when I asked Pablo to look at the music, he said of course. Who wants to study a piece just for one gig? It’s a lot of work. But he has played it with the Edmonton Symphony, the Vancouver Symphony, and I asked him to play it in Sarasota.” He is referring to the South Florida Symphony, which signed Mr. Kabaretti on as its music director starting in 2014.
Thanks to the SBS, and the passionate advocacy of Mr. Kabaratti, “Elmer’s music is seeing some revival,” says the conductor, “and I’m hoping to do the same with this beautiful song cycle, which is important for us to do. Hopefully, we will also be able to record it. There is no available commercial recording of that available.”
Taking an overview of the season about to end, the maestro noted that, in this 65th season, “we tried to do so many different things and appeal to the tastes of different people. Americans can be quite happy that we have four big pieces for orchestra, which is also part of our mission.”
On that list of notable American composers—legendary adopted Santa Barbaran Elmer Bernstein, from his off-screen musical life.