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Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, January 23, 2010
JoAnn Falletta, guest conductor
Michael Ludwig, violin

Conductor JoAnn Falletta

THE RED AND THE WHITE

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 23, 2010

In the old days, barbers were also surgeons, as adept with a scalpel as a razor, their red-and-white barber pole an emblem of both surgery (red) and hair-cutting (white). At its Jan. 23 concert, the well-coiffed Santa Rosa Symphony enacted this dual role, offering both some serious blood (from a real Barber) and an bit of hair-trimming (from Carter, Corigliano and Copland).

First to the Barber blood, which was last on the program but well worth the wait. For many classical listeners, Samuel Barber is the “Adagio for Strings” and maybe one or two other compositions. That number might have to be expanded to three or four after hearing the Santa Rosans’ performance of “Symphony in One Movement,” a compact work from 1936 that contains as much genuine excitement and raw emotion as symphonies three times its length from European masters.

Under the steady baton of guest conductor Joann Falletta, the orchestra showcased all its many talents in a full exploration of Barber’s masterpiece. The duets and trios from the woodwinds were particularly evocative, but everyone contributed to bringing out the romanticism and lyrical expansiveness of Barber’s score. Short but sweet, Barber’s symphony plunges right into the emotional depths, illuminating the journey with brilliant orchestration and finally surfacing with a sure command of musical form. The performance was all one could have asked for.

In contrast, the program leading up to the Barber seemed more consumed with style than substance. The opening work, Elliott Carter’s “Holiday Overture,” was both rousing and festive, but it never settled into anything weighty. Some of the lack of heft might be attributed to Falletta’s conducting technique, which is quite fluid but curiously immobile. She tends to plant her feet on the podium and conduct with her upper body. The effect is graceful, but the musical narrative is often confined.

A similar problem afflicted John Corigliano’s “Red Violin Concerto,” performed by the virtuosic Michael Ludwig, who recently recorded the work with Falletta and her main orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic. Viewers of the movie “The Red Violin,” released in 1998, will probably recall snatches of the score, such as the recurring main theme and a metronome sequence where a young orphan plays faster and faster in servitude to his beloved instrument.

All those elements are present in the “Red Violin Concerto,” but without the movie to tie them together, they struggle to cohere. The first movement, which begins with a series of double-stops on the violin, is perhaps the most successful. Reading from a score, Ludwig took off running, his intonation impeccable, his vibrato expressive, his bowing a model of fluidity. Most blessed of all was his sound projection, with his diminutive violin easily carrying over the full orchestra behind him.

At times, the opening movement sounded like one of the Bach sonatas for solo violin, particularly in the lengthy cadenza, with its stately tempo and drone-like use of the lower strings. Ludwig took full advantage of the powerful melody, echoing its refrains through many iterations.

The musical materials in movements two through four, however, were far less resonant. The second tried to stir things up with an insistent tremolo; the third searched in vain for a gripping theme; and the fourth reenacted the metronome scene with an obvious contrast between orchestra (metronome) and soloist (doomed young boy).

Throughout the concerto, Ludwig displayed impeccable skill and musicianship, no matter what the music. The standing ovation elicited one encore, Fritz Kreisler’s “Caprice Viennois.” Here both Ludwig and orchestra shone, investing the legendary virtuoso’s light-hearted fare with just the right amount of feeling.

That leaves only Aaron Copland’s “El Salón México,” which seems to have been intended as a space filler for the second half, given the brevity of the Barber symphony. Aside from a wonderful bassoon and saxophone duet, the piece never caught fire. It was a victim of its own simplistic structure, too self-evident to inspire much interest.

Fortunately, the Barber soon followed, bringing the evening to an inspired finish.