Forget the recent controversy over the San Luis Obispo Symphony board’s decision regarding its former music director Michael Nowak.
It’s the music we look forward to, delight in, and remember, and this Saturday at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo, the symphony season’s opening concert promises to deliver powerful music with two of the classical world’s most charismatic figures.
One of them is an old friend of San Luis Obispo, cello star Zuill Bailey. The other, making his SLO debut, is guest conductor Nir Kabaretti, musical director of the Santa Barbara Symphony.
Although a native of Israel, Kabaretti conducts in the grand European manner; he studied in Vienna and has led at La Scala, among many other places. Video footage of him in action in Santa Barbara shows an extroverted yet fastidious conductor whose joy in making music is immediately evident. Interviewed by telephone at his home in Santa Barbara, Kabaretti expressed his excitement about coming to SLO for the first time — and about working with Zuill Bailey again.
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“Yes, I’ve known Zuill for years — we’ve played together in Santa Barbara,” Kabaretti recalled. “He’s become a real star!”
Bailey, whose Telarc CD of the Bach Solo Cello Suites was No. 1 on the Billboard Classical charts, will be featured in Ernest Bloch’s powerful “Schelomo,” a “Hebraic Rhapsody” for cello and orchestra.
“Bloch doesn’t call it a concerto, but it is,” says Kabaretti. “It is a highly sophisticated piece in that it is based on the wisdom of Solomon in the Old Testament. The music embodies complex thoughts about human aspiration, the role of religion in life, the relations between God and Man.
“The orchestral colors are dense, and the cello part uses intervals that seem to invoke the Middle East. How did the music played in King Solomon’s court actually sound?”
The evening’s main course, however, will be a cornerstone of the modern repertoire — Shostakovich’s challenging, sobering Fifth Symphony, written in 1936.
“Yes, this is the piece that changed Shostakovich’s life,” Kabaretti mused. “We know more now than we did 60 years ago about the personal suffering that man went through. The sadness in the third movement is extreme.
“The rich texture of the Fifth means that it’s a lot of work for every player in the orchestra, individually and collectively. Only very good musicians can play it — and San Luis has a very exciting, very engaged, enthusiastic group.”
Speaking by telephone before a concert in Anchorage, Alaska, Zuill Bailey echoed Kabaretti’s endorsement. “I know this orchestra,” Baily said, “and I played Beethoven with Nir Kabaretti in Santa Barbara, and he’s wonderful.”
Asked why Bloch did not call his concerto a concerto but a “rhapsody,” Baily pointed out that “the composer’s initial concept was for orchestra and vocalist — but once he heard the cello’s likeness to the human voice, he stopped worrying what words from Ecclesiastes to set and wrote rhapsodic music for an instrument that describes regal authority.
“I love this piece and I’ve spent a lot of time with it. The first note is a complete thought in itself, a pinprick that blossoms and retreats. And it’s a match made in heaven for the sound of my cello, which is more than 320 years old and has a voice like a wise, kingly character.”
Bailey’s newest CD (Steinway & Sons 30049) presents his reading of the Bloch Rhapsody, and the opening night concert will be his first performance of the piece since its release.
IF YOU GO: SLO SYMPHONY OPENING NIGHT
8 p.m. Saturday Cohan Center, Cal Poly 1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo
756-4849 or http://www.pacslo.org