On September 22, 1946 Lotte Lehmann and Otto Klemperer attended a meeting at the Montecito Country Club to discuss the possibility of establishing a summer music school in Santa Barbara. In July of the next year Music Academy of the West began its inaugural season, which Time magazine noted in a 1947 issue as, “Last week, the West opened a musical finishing school of its own, at luxuriant seaside Santa Barbara.”
Through the years, career oriented students are chosen to study with a prestigious assortment of Music Academy faculty members that have included Lotte Lehmann, Roman Totenberg, Maurice Abravanel, Arnold Schoenberg, Darius Mihaud, Ernest Bloch, Gregor Piatigorsky, Gabor Rejto, Zvi Zeitlin and Martial Singher.
The Music Academy of the West complex (the original building dates from 1909) is nestled in the up-scale enclave of Montecito, which is around the corner from the coast and Four Seasons The Biltmore – an idyllic and unique venue that offers 8 weeks of summer master classes, concerts and lectures with emphasis on solo, collaborative, chamber music, vocal and orchestral performance.
This summer’s faculty and guest artists include Takacs Quartet, Glenn Dicterow, Cynthia Phelps, Nico Abondolo, New York Philharmonic String Quartet, Frank Huang, Carter Brey, Renee Fleming and Marilyn Horne.
Students also receive instruction from notable pianists like Stephen Hough, Robert McDonald, Jeremy Denk and Conor Hanick.
This review mentions two solo piano master classes given by Jerome Lowenthal at Hahn Hall on June 12 and June 19 and a chamber music concert on June 20 at the Lobero Theatre, which featured the world premiere of Jeremy Turner’s “Suite of Unreason,” an exceptionally imaginative work by a composer of OUR time – which will be given a “Critique of Pure Reason.”
The distinguished American concert pianist Jerome Lowenthal is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and his association with Music Academy of the West spans 47 years of teaching solo piano and piano chamber music classes in addition to giving numerous concerts. Each master class featured three accomplished students performing such works as Chopin’s sonata, Op. 58, Beethoven’s sonata, Op. 106, Debussy’s Images Book II, Rachmaninoff’s Corelli variations, Op. 42 and Mozart’s sonata K. 332.
Included in the mix was the standout twenty year-old Michael Davidman who studies at the Curtis Institute – a talent to watch. His account of Rachmaninoff’s complex and quirky sonata Op. 36 (1931 version) was electrifying for its sweeping yet refined sentimentality and pyrotechnical prowess of which he tossed off fiendishly difficult passagework with great finesse – and a few gasps were even heard from the spellbound audience.
Lowenthal’s comments brought out the best response in Davidman and all the players as he talked about the aesthetics of interpretation using wry humor, story telling, historical insights, aphorisms and at the piano illustration – of which the vast piano literature seemed at his command. There was also a small on stage screen that projected a close-up of performers hands.
For example: Lowenthal told a student of California State University Fullerton who played Debussy’s Poissons d’or that it is a love story between two gold fish and another student from Colburn School of Music that Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” is a sonata based on thirds in search of a 4th.
His discussion of Rachmaninoff included remarks about how the composer used melodies like Palestrina did, in step-by-step motion and that a key element of Rachmaninoff’s music is the emotional and expressive impact that occurs at the end of the phrase. He also discussed with a student of The Juilliard School differences in phrasing Mozart’s keyboard works using the concept of string bowing or the notion of long phrases made out of short phrases.
The evening’s chamber music concert featured two under-performed works and Jeremy Turner’s “Suite of Unreason,” with Music Academy faculty. Turner began his career as cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and subsequently gained notoriety as composer of classical and crossover styles in collaboration with such artists as Joshua Bell and Paul McCartney.
“Suite of Unreason” unfolds in a mellifluous and refreshing soundworld of flat and syncopated sequences depicting tonal impressions of Fish, Ghosts, The Violent Wind, Soul Brush, The Lion and Death Again – played by an astute ensemble of Richie Hawley(clarinet), Robert deMaine (cello), Michael Werner (percussion) and Conor Hanick (piano).
“Suite of Unreason” creates a mesmerizing and organic atmosphere as it highlights splashes of chimes, drum beats, xylophone rings, wildly animated cello vibrato with harmonics, and high octane piano scales that evoke the first movement of Prokofieff’s third piano concerto – cleverly paced and spaced at different metric speeds. Turner was at the concert and received enthusiastic approval from the audience. Bravo!
The program’s first half closed with Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and winds, Op. 16 in a reading of stylistic purity and clarity from Jerome Lowenthal (piano), Eugene Izotov (oboe), Richie Hawley (clarinet), Dennis Michel (bassoon) and Julie Landsman (horn). Beethoven moved to Vienna several years prior to writing this work and began to establish himself as a virtuoso fortepiano player and composer, of which this work contains passages that require facile technique.
Each player brought an individual and collective refinement to this work, spinning phrases with the suppleness of a so-called Viennese lilt, particularly the Andante cantabile which seemed to float with expansive buoyancy from the Pacific Ocean to the Danube.
Faure’s piano quartet, Op. 45, the concluding work, contains an abstract sense of lush melodicism, especially the Adagio non troppo which was given a sweet-toned and sensitive reading from Glenn Dicterow (violin), Karen Dreyfus (viola), Alan Stepansky (cello) and Warren Jones (piano). An added touch included the groups on stage attire that featured a purple short-sleeved shirt, a vibrant red full-length gown and traditional concert garb. A chacun son gout.