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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 / Monday, May 10, 2010
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Ute Lemper, vocalist
Hudson Shad, male vocal quartet

Ute Lemper

SINS, SWANS AND DONS

by Steve Osborn
Monday, May 10, 2010

Patrons returning for the second half of Monday night’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert witnessed the unusual sight of five microphones: one to the left of the conductor’s podium, next to a black stool, and four to the right, with accompanying chairs. The stool and chairs were soon occupied, respectively, by vocal soloist Ute Lemper and the male vocal ensemble Hudson Shad.

These peculiar forces and accoutrements had been assembled by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis for Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, a rarely performed work from 1933, originally written as a ballet with accompanying lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. In the original version, a soprano sings the role of Anna I, one side of a split personality, and a ballerina dances the role of her counterpart, Anna II, with occasional brief vocal interjections.

Instead of adopting the ballet format, the powers that be chose to combine Annas I and II into a single person (Lemper), even though the stage had plenty of room for a dancer. While Lemper mostly sang, she did make a few faintly balletic moves by twirling her floor-length black dress or swaying suggestively.

The awkward format was but one of many problems with the performance. The libretto stuffed into the programs, for example, was only in English, even though Lemper was singing the original German. The absence of a parallel text made following along difficult.

Equally puzzling was the lack of supertitles. In this day and age, supertitles are a given for opera, and there’s a compelling case for bringing them into symphonic vocal performances, as well. Their presence would reduce the rustling of librettos, if nothing else.

The microphones were yet another problem. Classical soloists generally avoid these contraptions because they fundamentally alter the quality of sound produced. Instead of a voice ringing out from an actual person, you get a disembodied voice squawking out of a box. The first has a full sound, replete with subtlety; the latter is reduced to an electronic signal notably lacking in finesse.

The real problem with the performance, however, was Lemper herself. Her voice, amplified or not, ranges from a low-pitched growling sound to a high-pitched whine, with little in between except for a pervasive vibrato. To be fair, that may be the cabaret style of performance required for Weill, but it quickly grows old.

The vocal quartet was much better, and their long chorus representing the sin of gluttony was the highlight of the show. Ranged from left to right on the stage, they seemed almost a caricature of a male vocal quartet, beginning with a short, smooth-skinned, rotund tenor, moving up through a couple of baritones, and ending with a tall, thin, bearded bass. Their voices blended well, and their enactment of the lyrics was often hilarious.

In the background, Ferrandis and the Symphony did their best to make sense of Weill’s music, which offers little variety. The score is mostly an extended recitative for Anna I, with little in the way of melodic invention or thematic contrast. One exception is the “Covetousness” section, where the violins offer an effective counterpoint to the quartet.

The audience, though, loved it, and Lemper performed two Weill encores. The obligatory Mack the Knife (sung in German) was followed by a French lullaby from 1935. In the latter, Lemper dropped her cabaret style and opted for more soothing tones, though it’s hard to imagine a baby being lulled to sleep by a parent singing into a microphone.

The first half of the concert was far better for the purists in the hall. It began with a solid performance of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni. Ferrandis used his fluid arm gestures to propel the orchestra forward, coaxing particularly good ensemble work from the strings. Sadly, the overture was over way too soon. Minus the subsequent opera, it’s really quite short.

The opera, more or less, arrived in the form of the ballet suite from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This similarly tragic romantic tale is suffused with familiar melodies, which the Symphony played to the hilt. Absent a corps de ballet, Ferrandis became the premier danseur, twirling about the podium like a virtual Nureyev.

The eight-part suite began with a haunting oboe solo from principal Barbara Midney in the first part, followed by a memorable waltz in the second. The person next to me began swaying in her seat during the waltz, perhaps responding to the urgency and elegance of the performance. A well-played cornet solo from principal trumpet Doug Morton led to the waltz’s rousing conclusion, which was followed by sustained applause.

The subsequent parts of the suite never did quite rise to the energy level of the waltz, but that’s the nature of Tchaikovsky’s score, not a criticism of the performance. The Symphony played wonderfully all the way to the end. Of particular note were the harp (Randall Pratt), violin (Joe Edelberg), and cello (Wanda Warkentin) solos in the fourth part, and another Morton cornet solo in the seventh.

At the end of Swan Lake, the audience gave Ferrandis and company a well-deserved standing ovation, a gesture they repeated at the concert’s conclusion. Both gestures marked a fitting end to another great season from this talented regional orchestra. The repertoire and soloists may have had their highs and lows, but the orchestra’s performance was first-rate all season long.

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.