This weekend, a hauntingly familiar sound will echo off the tile floors and adobe walls of missions in San Luis Obispo, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. Violinist Shunske Sato will join the San Luis Obispo Symphony Chamber Players for a trio of concerts that recall the musical past of California’s missions.
On the California Missions Tour program are two baroque pieces — Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Pietro Antonio Locatelli’s “Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 1 No. 5” — and “Ecos armónicos,” a modern composition by Cal Poly music professor Craig Russell that incorporates snippets of the sacred and secular music performed throughout the state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
“This mission tour is really a combination of ideas I had of bringing together the music of California and the music of Europe,” said Michael Nowak, music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony.
Each performance will open with Locatelli’s “Concerto Gross,” a lesser-known gem from the Baroque era.
Although Locatelli doesn’t enjoy the same level of fame today as Arcangelo Corelli and other contemporaries, his “concerto da chiesa” — a concerto in the church style — allows each principal player a chance to shine, Nowak said.
“It’s a beautiful piece,” he said. “I was really stunned at how creative it was.”
In contrast, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is one of baroque music’s best-loved compositions.
“Once you hear the name ‘Vivaldi,’ the first thing that comes to mind is ‘The Four Seasons,’ ” Nowak said, praising the piece’s accessibility.
As familiar as “Spring,” Summer,” “Autumn” and “Winter” have become to most music lovers, Sato said, revisiting those four violin concertos was “like reading an exciting book or watching a movie for the first time, and I was stunned by the boldness and rawness that sprang to my eyes while studying the music.”
Asked which aspects of “The Four Seasons” appeal to him most, Sato named the piece’s “vividness, its immediacy, its descriptiveness, its trueness to life.”
Sato, who will perform with the San Luis Obispo Symphony for the fourth time this weekend, is equally excited about Russell’s “Ecos armónicos.”
Inspired by Russell’s research for his 2009 book “From Serra to Sancho: Music and Pageantry in the California Missions,” the piece features six movements — including an exhilarating “Alleluia,” a jaunty, joyous march and a frenzied fandango — that draw from mission manuscripts in much the same way that Aaron Copland turned to Shaker melodies for “Appalachian Spring.”
Sato said “Ecos armónicos,” which was originally written with Grammy Award-winning violinist Kathy Lenski in mind, offers a fascinating glimpse at the musical history of the California missions.
“The very fact that California had such a lively musical culture in the 18th and 19th centuries was a complete surprise to me,” said Sato, describing Russell’s work as “innovative” and “audience- and-performer friendly.” “‘Ecos armónicos’ has certainly whetted my appetite for more of California’s mission music and its rich variety.”
According to Nowak, the California Missions Tour offers a true treat for audiences.
“It’s one of those concert (series) that will be really fun to listen to,” he said. “The audience will love it.”
IF YOU GO
California Missions Tour
2:30 p.m. Saturday
Mission San Miguel, 775 Mission St., San Miguel
8 p.m. Saturday
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, 751 Palm St., San Luis Obispo
3 p.m. Sunday
Mission Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna St., Santa Barbara
$15 to $35 per concert
543-3533 or www.slosymphony.com