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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.]