Ensemble turns to Vivaldi for its first in-person concerts for a large audience since 2020
The Westmont College Orchestra is looking forward tonight to seeing something that has been missing since the start of the pandemic.
A live audience.
Last school year, the orchestra performed virtual programs, but it’s not the same, conductor Michael Shasberger told the News-Press.
“It’s back to relating to people and feeling emotion from the audience and sharing it live,” Dr. Shasberger, the Adams chair of music and worship, said Thursday.
The concert takes place at 7 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday at Hahn Hall at the Music Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairview Road, Montecito.
It’s the 56-member orchestra’s first in-person concert before a large audience since February 2020. Dr. Shasberger said the ensemble played for about 30 people in May.
“Hahn Hall seats around 300 people,” he said. “I’m hoping for a good turnout at the two performances.”
Tonight and Sunday, the orchestra will perform movements from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” It will feature violin soloists Sophia Chan, Daniel Macy, Anasara Lysaker and Elizabeth Callahan and viola soloist Issac Siebelink. Each will perform one or two movements from “Autumn” or “Winter.”
The orchestra will also play Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony,” Aaron Copland’s “Suite from The Tender Land” and the “English Folk Song Suite” by Vaughan Williams.
Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is an immensely popular piece, and Dr. Shasberger said the composer was ahead of his time in using music for storytelling. Vivaldi based the music on four sonnets, one for each season.
Dr. Shasberger said he likes the descriptive power of “The Four Seasons,” which leads listeners to imagine everything from sliding on ice to warming up by the fire.
“There’s such buoyancy in his music. It’s so alive. It’s so fresh,” the conductor said. “I think that’s a reflection of his musical personality and the culture he lived in, the vibrancy of Venice in that day.”
Dr. Shasberger noted Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote “The Four Seasons” to be played by young girls who attended a convent’s school in Venice. “It was designed for those young instrumentalists.”
The conductor discussed the other music at this weekend’s concerts. Among the best known is Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.”
“There are so many stories around its creation, how he was able to start it, why he didn’t complete it — for health reasons, professional reasons,” Dr. Shasberger said. He added there has been speculation that the composer was unhappy with the work.
But he noted audiences love the symphony for its lyrical sound and sense of drama, emotion and intrigue.
Dr. Shasberger said Copland’s “Suite from the Tender Land” will resonate with fans of Copland’s well-known “Rodeo” and “Appalachian Spring Suite.”
Dr. Shasberger said the performance will give the audience a taste of Copland’s opera “The Tender Land,” which the Westmont College orchestra and choir, as well as vocal soloists playing the characters, will perform in January.
“It’s a story set in the Midwest, in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s,” Dr. Shasberger said. “It’s a great coming-of-age American story.”
And it’s a love story. A soprano and tenor will play Laurie and Martin, the young couple at the heart of “The Tender Land.”
While Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is strictly for the orchestra’s strings section, “English Folk Suite” will be performed by the wind and brass players, along with harpsichordists David Shaing and Rebecca Li.
Unlike pianos, which strike strings, harpsichords pluck them. And Dr. Shasberger noted they’re a rhythmic instrument. “If you took them into a contemporary rock band, they would be the rhythm guitar.”