Hosting classical music concerts since 1919, the Community Arts Music Association of Santa Barbara is celebrating its centennial anniversary with its 101st concert series, beginning with a performance by renowned British pianist and composer Stephen Hough.
On October 29, Mr. Hough will play through a seven-piece program featuring one of his own compositions alongside those by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin, Ferruccio Busoni, and Franz Liszt.
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Hough said the evening’s third song, Mr. Chopin’s “Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35,” also known as his “Funeral March,” is the centerpiece for the entire evening. As alluded to in the sonata’s colloquial name, the theme of death loosely ties it with the concert’s other six numbers.
\Upon taking the stage of the Lobero, Mr. Hough will open the concert with a rendition of “Chaccone for Violin Solo, from Partita II for Violin, BMV 1004” by Johann Sebastian Bach and arranged by Ferruccio Busoni. According to Mr. Hough, the piece was written by Mr. Bach in memory of his first wife. The pianist will follow this with “Berceuse elegiaque, Op. 42,” which Mr. Busoni wrote himself in memory to his mother.
Mr. Hough wove these and the pieces in the concert’s second half into a program based around a piece that he wanted to get around to learning and performing for many years, Mr. Chopin’s “Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35.” Though he described this as a “central piece” for piano students, the “Funeral March” somehow passed him by. Recalling the inception of the death-themed program, Mr. Hough said, “I wanted to play the ‘Funeral March’ sonata and build around it.”
Though he described the song as “the most famous funeral march ever written” and one that “everyone will know,” the pianist also said it is “one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire to play” despite its familiarity. He has heard it many times and has even taught it to students, but Mr. Hough said taking the time to learn the song was still a challenge, likening it to a veteran actor who has never performed William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” suddenly deciding to do it late in his career.
“It’s no easier later in life than earlier,” he said.
He added that the mere fact he could go this long without playing the “Funeral March” is indicative of the piano music repertoire’s vastness, one of his favorite aspects of his instrument.
“That’s the joy of playing the piano. You can never learn all the music written for you even if you live two lifetimes,” he said.
Following the Chopin centerpiece, Mr. Hough will play through his brainchild “Sonata No. 4,” also titled “Vida Breve.” Sharing its title with a completely unrelated Spanish opera and all about life’s impermanence, “Vida Breve” aptly translates to “Short Life” and falls right in line with the evening’s theme of death. The piece was written over the course of a year, the standard time Mr. Hough allows himself to compose a new piece. Elaborating on his creative process, the composer said he doesn’t write every day and sometimes even takes as long as a month without putting pen to page. This allows him to acquire some distance from the piece and return to it with a renewed sense of clarity.
“It’s much better if you can get some perspective on it and catch things when you come back,” he said.
To conclude the kick-off to CAMA’s centennial season opener, Mr. Hough will dedicate the second half of his concert to three pieces by Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt, “Funerailles, from Poetic and Religious Harmonies,” “Mephisto Waltz No. 4,” and “Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S. 514.” When asked what about Mr. Liszt’s work appeals to him so much to play three of his pieces, Mr. Hough described him as someone who “changed how the piano is played,” as well as a writer of complex, moving music.
“He’s someone who writes music of great virtuosity and emotional depth,” Mr. Hough said.
Tickets for Mr. Hough’s October 29 performance cost between $45 and $55 and can be purchased online at www.lobero.org. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, located at 33 E Canon Perdido St.