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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, October 23, 2010
Škampa String Quartet

Škampa String Quartet

ANGUISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHY

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chamber music ensembles come and go, sometimes in their entirety, sometimes player by player. When a first violinist leaves a string quartet, for example, the group either dissolves or scrambles to find a replacement. Rarely, however, do two players leave at once, but such is the case with the Czech Republic’s two-decade-old Skampa String Quartet, which appeared for its concert in Occidental on Oct. 23 boasting not one but two new violinists since its last appearance in Sonoma County two years ago.

At the 2008 concert, held at Santa Rosa Junior College, the Skampa players stood (excepting the cello) and delivered a memorable rendition of Smetana’s first string quartet, “From My Life.” This year the quartet sat and delivered an equally memorable rendition of an equally autobiographical quartet, the Shostakovich No. 8.

Getting to the “memorable” category wasn’t easy. The two new violinists, Helena Jiríkovská (first) and Daniela Soucková (second), had big shoes to fill, a task made harder by their diminutive frames and less than compelling stage presences. Jiríkovská in particular was rigidly focused on her score, in stark contrast to the emotive cellist Lukás Polák and the founding violist Radim Sedmidubsky, who played many passages from memory.

The Skampa began their concert in the new Occidental Center for the Arts with the two extant middle movements from Haydn’s last quartet fragment, Op. 103. As Sedmidubsky said, the fragment is a good concert opener, and it showed off the clean acoustics of the new Center, a converted elementary school gymnasium. As befitting its former small inhabitants, the gym is on a petite scale, seating about 100, with a three-foot-high stage at the south end. Dominating the stage is a set of sound reflectors (they looked like birch plywood), with matching reflective “clouds” hanging from the ceiling.

The audience sits on cloth-covered stacking chairs, either on the central floor or on raised platforms in the back. Sight lines are excellent, and the stage lighting is subdued. Adding to the pleasant mix is an open kitchen on the west wall from which refreshments are served at intermission. For this performance, almost every chair was filled, despite the torrential rain outside.

Compared to the Center’s former cramped quarters at the Occidental Community Church, the acoustics have somewhat less presence, perhaps because of the sound-absorbing tiles on the gym’s ceiling. One hopes that the new Center is a work in progress, however, so further adjustments can be made.

Back to the Skampa, which dispatched the Haydn with precision and clarity but not much in the way of feeling. That latter quality began to show through in the next work, the last quartet (Op. 106) of their countryman Antonin Dvorak. This infrequently performed work makes considerable technical demands on all the players and features a dizzying succession of melodic ideas. Just when Dvorak seems to have settled into a theme, he leapfrogs into another musical universe.

The Skampa approached Dvorak’s quartet with considerable energy, but they often seemed in too much of a hurry to let the piece sing. Despite his extroverted playing, the cellist emitted a thin tone, and the first violinist was frequently detached from the rest of the group. The second violinist had a better sound and seemed more engaged; her solo at the beginning of the second movement was particularly impressive. Holding everything together was the veteran violist Sedmidubsky, who leaned out from his chair at the left end of the quartet to play his occasional solos to the audience.

All the notes and dynamics were there, but the performance never caught fire. Thankfully, the conflagration did arrive after a lengthy intermission. Following a helpful introduction by Sedmidubsky, the Skampa eased into the Shostakovich with a sustained pianissimo, setting the stage for the sudden fortissimo of the work’s rollicking second theme. They played with conviction and certainty, blending their instruments beautifully and creating a striking unanimity of sound.

The rest of this memorable quartet, which many consider to be Shostakovich’s finest, was equally well played. Most important, the Skampa invested real meaning into the work, making Shostakovich’s anguished musical autobiography come alive. After the quiescent and somber ending, the audience sat for a moment in complete silence, holding their tumultuous applause until the musicians stood up. The standing ovation was well deserved.