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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, December 4, 2010
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir
Cyndia Sieden, soprano
Marcus DeLoach, baritone

Soprano Cyndia Siedan

HOLIDAY MUSIC WITH A TWIST

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, December 4, 2010

Playing a requiem is a strange way to celebrate the holidays. At a time when people are looking for a bit of cheer, the Santa Rosa Symphony took the opposite approach for its Dec. 4 concert, offering not only the Fauré Requiem, but also the world premiere of Aubert Lemeland’s “Battle Pieces,” inspired by soldiers’ poems about death. Sandwiched between these two was the somewhat more festive Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

Regardless of the season, the Fauré Requiem was the highlight of the show. Using the full force of the Symphony’s 140-voice Honor Choir to telling effect, Music Director Bruno Ferrandis delivered a memorable performance. He achieved particularly good balance between the singers and the orchestra, and he was in full command of dynamics. The pianissimo passages were really, really quiet, and the fortissimos were correspondingly loud.

Mr. Ferrandis dedicated the performance of the Requiem to the composer Lemeland, who died just a few weeks ago. Perhaps that connection sparked the performance, which began with a dark and brooding entry from the choir. Mr. Ferrandis mouthed the words as they sang “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). He continued in this fashion throughout the piece, which he has carefully memorized and certainly mastered. The score calls for a solo soprano and baritone, along with an organ. Lacking a real pipe organ, Mr. Ferrandis made do with an electronic one, its speakers stacked incongruously behind the violins. The sound was a bit plinky on the high notes, but it was mostly adequate.

The soloists were adequate as well. Soprano Cyndia Sieden sang a beautiful “Pie Jesu,” but her voice was a bit angular and could have used some smoothing around the edges. Last-minute baritone substitute Hugh Davies had a more rounded tone and was effective in the lower part of his range. The upper part, however, was somewhat nasal and congested. The scheduled soloist, Marcus DeLoach, was sick and couldn’t perform.

Technical problems aside, the Faure solos were well sung and delicately balanced with the orchestra. The real vocal star, however, was the chorus. From their hushed entry in the “Introitus” to their angelic departure in the “In Paradisum,” they captured the spirit of the Requiem, one of the loveliest pieces in the repertoire.

In contrast, the Lemeland “Battle Pieces” that opened the show will probably never ascend into the repertoire. Lemeland was a prolific French composer, but he is hardly known in the United States, despite his obvious interest in America. “Battle Pieces” is based on five poems written by American soldiers during World War Two. Instead of being set to music, the poems are read one by one, each reading followed by a musical interpretation.

Compositions that use spoken rather than sung texts form a small subgenre in music, including such famous examples as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Stravinsky’s “l’Histoire du Soldat.” The inherent danger is that the text will overwhelm the music, or vice versa. In this case, the text won by a landslide. The poems, read with conviction by former airman and actor Bernard Sugarman, were uniformly excellent, each one expressing the anguish and chagrin of soldiers headed into battle. The music, however, was undistinguished.

Lemeland scored the music for string orchestra and piano, with much emphasis on the cellos. Their lower reaches are often equated with grief, and Lemeland uses that trope repeatedly. Another standard device Lemeland employs is the quoting of hymns and folk tunes, in this case “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which makes an appearance in the opening section. The problem is that the music never rises above these devices. We already know from the poems that the music is supposed to be sad. It just never becomes anything else.

For some reason, several wind players were seated on stage during the “Battle Pieces,” even though they never played a note. They finally got their chance in the Poulenc Gloria, which features the composer’s usual sprightly writing for winds. The performance was a blessed relief from the dirge-like “Battle Pieces.” Once again, the choir shone, particularly in the “Laudamus Te” section and their a cappella entrance to “Qui Sedes.”

The Gloria is filled with unusual interpretations of a benumbingly standard text. Where legions of composers go one way in interpreting the words, Poulenc goes the other. The results are often memorable, nowhere more so than in the “Qui Sedes,” where the lush and exotic scoring gives the impression that the composer has found God while living it up on a tropical island.

If the performance of the Poulenc had a fault, it was with the lack of coherence. Poulenc introduces many musical ideas, and Mr. Ferrandis and company sometimes had trouble tying them all together. That particular ribbon and bow didn’t arrive until the Fauré.

In sum, the concert may not have been the most festive occasion, but it was mostly worth celebrating.