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Music Academy Students Offer Lesson in Skill

August 19, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD

SANTA BARBARA — "Student orchestra" is a term that can breathe fear into the hearts of music lovers, or at least trigger scaled-down expectations. Of course, it's a highly relative term. In Santa Barbara, the summer classical music roster is illuminated by the residency of students culled from around the world to attend the renowned Music Academy of the West.

Saturday night at the Lobero Theatre, the academy orchestra put on its final concert of the summer season, and it sounded like a band with wisdom beyond its years. For this, we can probably thank the academic standards of the academy, the polishing effects of an intense, condensed program, and the fifth annual residency of conductor Jeffrey Tate, who has made a habit of coming to Santa Barbara to work with students.

No doubt, Tate's hand at the helm proved a cohesive force in helping the young charges negotiate a serious program. No fluff or filler was to be found, between music by the ethereal Estonian Arvo Part, Benjamin Britten and Schubert's Ninth Symphony, "The Great," that expansive proto-romantic opus to which the orchestra gave an apt sense of grandeur and measured doses of color.

The orchestra also brought requisite mystery and restraint to Part's brief yet poignant 1976 piece "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten," which should be a cerebral chestnut in the orchestral repertoire by now. In this simple, profound study in descending line, tolling bells act as a sonic and metaphorical binding agent amid the haze of laconic, shimmering strings, playing somber phrases that gradually cascade into a low, mournful chord.

If this year's orchestra didn't always produce the kind of seamless or perfectly integrated sound that comes with long, focused work together, it compensated with fervor and intention. Saturday's concert helped confirm the suspicion that this is one of the finest student orchestras the world has to offer.

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