From MAW to LSO

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 24, 2022
Simon Rattle of the London Symphony Orchestra

The pandemic sure played havoc with the Music Academy of the West’s (MAW) landmark transcontinental partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), postponing both the orchestra’s second appearance in 2021 and nixing the opportunity for fellows who won the annual Keston MAX competition to travel to London to a week with the LSO for the 2019-21 contingent. 

Now, both organizations are putting the pandemic in the rearview mirror and more than making up for the missed performances as LSO is in residence right now at MAW and Santa Barbara to perform three programs under the leadership of its renowned music director Sir Simon Rattle. The three concerts at the Granada mark the eminent conductor’s first appearance in town in decades (Daniel Harding filled in for Michael Tilson Thomas in LSO’s 2019 MAW concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl), and span the spectrum of what the orchestra offers. 

Co-presented with CAMA, the March 24 evening performance showcases the LSO in music by Berlioz, Ravel, Sibelius, Bartók, and Women of the Future Award-winner Hannah Kendall. Saturday afternoon’s How to Build an Orchestra program on March 26 is one of LSO’s signature family concerts, featuring snippets of familiar works as well as music and arrangements by LSO Animateur Rachel Leach, who will present it in person, to spark wonder in youngsters and curiosity in classical music. Leach’s piece will also feature more than 100 members of MAW’s SING! Children’s Chorus. 

Stephanie Block, one of the 2018 Keston MAX winners, traveled to London in 2019 to play with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra

Sunday afternoon’s show on March 27 not only culminates the residency but caps the collaboration with a community concert that serves to introduce MAW’s milestone 75th anniversary season. The concert pairs members of the LSO with 36 Keston MAX “All-Stars” drawn from the winners of the competition over the past four summers. The ensemble will play two works by Percy Grainger (“Lads of Wamphray” and “Lincolnshire Posy”) before tacking on Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 4, Romantic.” 

For Stephanie Block, one of the 2018 Keston MAX winners who actually did get to travel to London in 2019 to learn and perform with LSO and share musical stands on stage with the esteemed musicians, the concert represents a reunion of sorts. 

“From the very first note that they played, the fellows were looking at each other in disbelief and what an honor it was to be able to play with an orchestra of this caliber,” the violist recalled earlier this month. “I was really struck by how Simon Rattle held the orchestra to such a high standard and demanded excellence, but also was so classy with a lot of humanity.”

Block also participated in mock auditions and recording sessions where they had to play a piece of music without rehearsal. “We got a crash course in what it is to be an LSO musician,” she said. “It really kicked our butts.” 

Block, who is currently a third-year viola fellow at the New World Symphony, said she was thrilled to be performing with LSO on the Bruckner at the Granada, both for the experience and the potential to further her career. 

“There are so many beautiful moments in his music, and the second movement in particular is actually a big viola excerpt for a lot of orchestral auditions. It’s an opportunity for the violas to shine. I feel incredibly lucky to be playing it for the first time with Simon Rattle and the LSO.” 

All of which points to the purpose of the performances as part of MAW’s mission to further the musical development and careers of the next generation of classical musicians. More to come next week with the annual competition winners in duos, vocals and piano, and the summer festival that gets underway in June.

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