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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 / 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.