This Week At The Academy

A first glance at the Music Academy of the West’s schedule for the upcoming week might cause you to do a double take. No Tuesday@8 faculty chamber music recital? No Academy Festival Orchestra symphony concert? What gives?

Ah, but then a closer inspection reveals the reasons, and there are a few. First, both the instrumentalists and the singers have been running ragged for the first 5 ½ weeks of the Summer Festival, particularly in the last week. Last Saturday’s Concerto Night required grueling rehearsals on pieces unfamiliar to both orchestra and conductor, while the vocalists had on their plates the stunningly professional Opera Showcase as well as a riveting master class with alumni Thomas Hampson.

(It’s safe to say that all who witnessed the baritone’s teaching method – a remarkably intense and admittedly verbose approach that veered way “off topic” into subjects of personal pain and loss and death, areas one might not normally expect in a singing class – were permanently changed in at least some small way. Hampson’s literally hands-on approach – as in guiding a fellow baritone through backwards steps across the stage designed to straighten his spine and thus access recesses of both his range and his emotions – proved notably effective. The end of the session evoked the first spontaneous standing ovation in a master class I’ve ever witnessed.)

Anyway, the typical programming has also been given a week’s respite in favor of two large-scale special events, and the advent of the annual opera performance.

Thursday, July 26: The Vocal Chamber Music Concert is a rare chance – I daresay I can’t recall any other place in Santa Barbara where you’ll find this format – to hear classical singers perform with instrumentalists beyond a simple accompanying piano. The Warren Jones-directed program calls for differing configurations, blending sopranos with a simple flute, for example, or a tenor with a wind ensemble, largely on works you won’t hear anywhere else. (Abravanel Hall, 7:30 pm, $16).

Friday, July 27: The Takacs Quartet winds up its two-week residency with a final turn at the helm of the String Chamber Master Class (Lehmann Hall, 1 pm, $12), where three ensembles that have been coached in private sessions with individual members of the quartet will perform the chamber music pieces in public and receive additional instruction from the full ensemble. (The Takac’s own performance of Dvorak’s “American” quartet at the Lobero last week was so gorgeous it nearly brought tears to the eyes). Also, the final Friday Picnic Concert of the year begins at 7:30 pm (Abravanel Hall, $18), as the last two entries are Thursday, Aug. 2, and Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Saturday, July 28: The annual Chamber Music Marathon is the biggest bargain of the year at the Music Academy. Featuring a full day of young artist performances, the event is akin to an extended Picnic Concert, in that the program is thrillingly eclectic, albeit dedicated more to quartets, quintets and larger ensembles than some of the smaller configurations you’d see on a typical evening. But considering that most of the groups have been practicing together for a full six weeks by now, the pieces – which often include some of the best-known and most-beloved chamber music works (such as Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” and Beethoven quartets) – should be at their best, delivered with precision, grace and enthusiasm. (Abravanel Hall, 10 am-4 pm, $15)

Also, a vocal master class with Marilyn Horne. Although the celebrated mezzo-soprano and MAW voice program director conducted a similar class earlier this month and has one more to go (slated for Aug. 7), this is the only one offered on the weekend, which not only makes it available to working folks but also inspires Horne via the large turnout at the Lobero. A dedicated perfectionist with an unerring ear, Horne nearly always gets to the root of the song and elicits marked improvement with her warm, yet dead-on, advice. (3pm; $29).

Tuesday, July 31: Longtime MAW board member Robert W. Weinman offers an introduction to “La Boheme,” this year’s academy opera, including unusual details about the popular work, its creators, and how it was written (Abravanel, 3:15 pm, free).

Wednesday, Aug. 1: Christopher Larkin conducts and Casey Stangl directs the full complement of Academy young singers as MAW’s “La Boheme” gets its first public performance in tonight’s open dress rehearsal. The run-through usually comes with a few insights from the coaches, which can truly heighten the experience (Lobero, 7:30 pm; $33).