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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, April 19, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Gary Hoffman, cello

Gary Hoffman

THE SUITE SMELL OF SUCCESS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 19, 2009

A ballet suite is not a symphony, but don’t tell that to Bruno Ferrandis. Throwing caution to the winds, Maestro Ferrandis programmed not one but two ballet suites for the April 19 concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, opening with selections from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane and devoting the entire second half to a suite of suites from Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Only an obscure, two-movement cello concerto by Nikolai Miaskovsky broke the long string of dance numbers.

Listening to a ballet suite without the requisite ballerinas and ballerinos is a bit like watching a movie with the sound off. You can infer what’s going on, but it sure would be helpful to have a human voice or a dancer confirm your suspicions. On the other hand, the dialogue or dance steps you imagine in the absence of same can be more engaging than the real thing.

From the summary of Gayane given in the program notes, imagining the ballet may be preferable to watching an actual performance. The Stalinist-era plot concerns a young village wife who conspires with a Soviet guard to foil her evil husband’s schemes against the people.

From the four acts of this drama, Ferrandis excerpted only three pieces, starting with the “Dance of the Rose Maidens,” which the orchestra played crisply and at a brisk pace. The ensuing “Lullaby” began with a lovely oboe solo, followed by contributions from the other woodwinds. Just to their right sat a saxophonist, who joined in during the last number, the famous “Saber Dance,” beloved of circuses and cartoons. The playing here was saber-rattling, if a touch sedate.

Next up was the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto, composed at the tail end of World War II. This rarely played work (at least in the U.S.) exhibits considerable anguish, perhaps because of the composer’s experiences during the war. Whatever their source, the concerto’s elegiac moods found a sympathetic interpreter in soloist Gary Hoffman. Despite playing from a score, he built strong rapport with the audience and delivered a convincing performance in every respect, save for occasional intonation problems on some of the trickier double stops.

Hoffman’s score became the unexpected center of attention when the cellist arrived on stage and discovered that a resident poltergeist had moved the ceiling spotlight that should have illuminated his music stand. “We need light,” Ferrandis pleaded, to no avail. The solution was to move Hoffman back toward the orchestra until he came in range of another spotlight, which was fine, except that now the second violins had to move back. No dominoes fell beyond the string section, however.

The incident, which caused much tittering among the audience, made me wonder why Hoffman hadn’t memorized the score. His playing was superb as it was; perhaps it would have been even better if he hadn’t been looking at the notes.

The concerto itself is somewhat formulaic, in that the orchestra provides mere background for the soloist’s sinuous meanderings. Hoffman has such a gorgeous tone that he could have held the audience’s attention by merely playing scales. Some of the solo passages, indeed, were not far removed from scales, often consisting of arpeggios moving up and down the fingerboard, as if the composer were searching for a melody.

In contrast, melody is never elusive for Prokofiev, whose Cinderella concluded the program with a bang. The composer himself made three separate suites from his wildly successful ballet, and Ferrandis in turn made a suite from these. The resulting metasuite involved a certain amount of page-turning from the orchestra, but the results were remarkably coherent.

At first, the decision to program a second ballet suite — this one consisting of 12 dances — seemed a bit odd. The opening movements were too short to really settle in, but by the middle of the suite the dances began to lengthen out, and the fairy tale came to the fore. The central waltz was truly evocative, with Ferrandis himself dancing around the podium and the musicians responding in kind.

With his precise rhythms and sharply articulated gestures, Ferrandis is particularly well-suited to Prokofiev, whose music often resembles an intricate machine composed of dozens of independently moving parts. Ferrandis kept them all in sync, in terms of both rhythm and dynamics. The forte and piano passages were well-contrasted, and the orchestra never flagged.

By the concluding “Midnight” dance, the musicians were playing at fever pitch, and the arrival of the fateful chimes was spine-tingling. Poor Cinderella fled, but the audience stayed on to give a loud, long ovation. On my way out of the theater, I heard several patrons repeat the exact same sentence to their companions: “That was wonderful.” Indeed.

[This article first appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), and is used by permission.]