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Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
American Philharmonic, Sonoma County / Sunday, April 27, 2008
Gabriel Sakakeeny

Gabriel Sakakeeny

A TRIUMPH OF INSPIRED PROGRAMMING

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Season finales for orchestras seem always to be memorable events, and the American Philharmonic Sonoma County concert on May 18 was no exception. Before an audience of 900 at the Wells Fargo Center, the county's 'other' orchestra provided a rousing ending to an adventuresome season.

How adventuresome' In earlier concerts this season, this orchestra of mainly non-professional performers played Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' and Scriabin's 'Poem of Ecstasy.' Sunday's menu, aimed at young attendees, shunned the usual 'Peter and the Wolf' and 'Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,' offering instead five substantial and varied works.

Music Director Gabriel Sakakeeny began in a romantic vein, speaking to the assemblage of the tribulations of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and then conducting Tchaikovsky's 'Overture-Fantasy' about the doomed lovers. The beginning in the bassoon and clarinet sections was shaky, but it was to be the last pesky playing of a glorious afternoon. Sakakeeny made the most of generally slow tempos to bring out the thematic richness. The cello section was especially sumptuous.

How better to follow the lush Tchaikovsky than with the pungent and now almost equally popular 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine' by California composer John Adams' This joyous minimalist work from 1981, a precursor to 'The Chairman Dances,' begins with a woodblock playing more loudly than the orchestra, which is already at forte, and continues for just four minutes. Sakakeeny kept the hurtling rhythms in check. An Arizona composer friend once lamented that Adams's great success was partially due to using snazzy titles, but here the 'Short Ride' was appropriate and telling.

Completing the first half was another sonic reversal, the 300-year old Concerto for Two Trumpets by Tomaso Albinoni. Soloists Daniel Norris and Thomas Hyde played what I think were B-flat piccolo trumpets. The opening theme was a call to action, with the bright sounds from the adept solo playing easily cutting through the orchestral fabric. Only the most rapid passage work gave the soloists any clarity trouble. It was a celebratory concerto, well played in a Baroque style. Was it a nod to ancient practice to have half the ensemble standing, and half seated'

There is a mystical and religious feel to most of the compositions of Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), and in his 1970 work 'And God Created Great Whales' the effects are memorable: pre-recorded yelps, snores and grunts of various whales, along with some aleatory parts for the players. The string tremolos, first appearing in the bass viols and then in the violas and violins, were evocative, as were the harp solos and descending trombone slides. An inspired selection, skillfully performed.

The concert concluded with Respighi's colorfully scored 'Pines of Rome,' a four-movement 1924 work. The opening Via Borghese section depicted youthful frolics in Rome's great park, followed by chilling bass sounds from the depths, Catacombs. The highlights came in the Janiculum section, with prismatic arpeggio flourishes from the orchestra's pianist leading to haunting solos from the clarinet, harp, celesta and oboe. The recorded voice of a nightingale provided a benediction.

The brilliant march of the concluding Pines of the Appian Way spotlights off-stage brass and English horn solos, driving the music to an inexorable climax, a champagne orgy of sound fitted to a marching Roman army outbound on a quest for empire. The orchestra's brass section made a generous contribution to the surround-sound effect. Here one couldn't quibble with the Wells Fargo Center's acoustics, as the dramatic effects brought listeners into the army's Appian Way column and ultimately to their feet.

Sakakeeny has said that repertoire choice is crucial to the success of the American Philharmonic, perhaps more so than for the Santa Rosa Symphony or even the San Francisco. People come to the last two orchestras often by tradition, but the American Phil lives or dies by providing familiar and sporadically challenging music to listeners, many of whom are having their initial symphony experience. The orchestra is meeting this need, and their concert was a triumph of inspired programming and adroit playing.