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Music Review

William Kraft 'Quips and Quotes' From Some of the Masters

January 21, 2002|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Santa Barbara — SANTA BARBARA--Composer William Kraft was asked to fulfill an odd, but not uncommon, request in his recent commission from the Santa Barbara Symphony. The task was to create a concert opener somehow relating to other works already on the program--the Brahms Second Piano Concerto and Sibelius' Second Symphony. The situation might be analogous to that of a decorator assigned a small corner of a large room, whose extant decor won't budge.

With a wry touch, Kraft created "Quips and Quotes: A Sacrilegious Homage," which was given its premiere Saturday at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Though less than 10 minutes long, it duly warmed the ears and mind.

Opening with a tenuous sense of tonality, the work could go either way, into dissonance or consonance, but stays intriguingly noncommittal, in a satisfying gray zone into which fleeting quotes are dropped. Wisps of Brahms, Sibelius, Mahler and hints of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" float by, but the effect is mostly impressionistic, in a piece that yearns to be longer.

In the main body of the program, the symphony made robust music under maestra Gisele Ben-Dor's guiding hand. With the Brahms, the local academic connection continued: Kraft has taught at UCSB for more than a decade, and pianist Jerome Lowenthal lands here each summer to teach at Music Academy of the West. Though a bit fumbling at first, Lowenthal warmed up as he went through the Concerto, and the orchestra had its own showcase in Sibelius' Second, creating an engaged accounting that was alternately expansive and focused.

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