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Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
Opera
DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017
Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedi...
Recital
NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the ...
Recital
STYLUS AND PLAYING FANTASTICUS IN YOUNG'S ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Organist Robert Young gave a wonderful tour through the stylus fantasticus (fantastic style) organ literature June 25 playing a recital on the Casavant organ at Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Young recently became the organist at the Church and previously served for 20 years as Music D...
Chamber
KODALY DUO TRUMPS POPULAR MENDELSSOHN TRIO AT SLV CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
It’s not really a secret, but Sonoma County’s best chamber music series is one without much notoriety or publicity. The concerts at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village programs are only for residents and a few invited guests. Impresario Robert Hayden years ago honed his producer skills as founder of ...
Recital
DEMANDING VIOLIN SONATAS CONQUERED BY BEILMAN-WEISS DUO IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Violinist Benjamin Beilman’s ravishing Mozart performance at last summer’s Weill Hall ChamberFest finale lured an enthusiastic crowd to Schroeder Hall May 14 to hear if his secure virtuosity was up to a program of demanding sonatas. He did not disappoint. With the powerful pianist Orion Weiss in t...
Symphony
SOVIETS INVADE WEILL HALL, TAKE NO PRISONERS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 07, 2017
Bruno Ferrandis may be French, but he excels in Soviet repertoire. His Slavonic expertise was more than amply demonstrated at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, where the program began joyfully with Khachaturian’s ballet suite from “Masquerade,” surged forward with Prokofiev’s second violin co...
Recital
MASTERFUL PIANISM IN GOODE'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, May 05, 2017
Pianist Richard Goode programmed an evening of treasures May 5 from four great composers, and is an artist of intimacy and intelligence, power and passion, able to go deep and to soar. Hearing Mr. Goode play this literature was a reminder of how music does indeed bridge worlds and time. Bach’s E m...
Recital
ELEGANT ORGAN SALUTE TO THE REFORMATION
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Organist Jonathan Dimmock presented an April 30 recital in homage to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, playing Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh instrument. Mr. Dimmock is the organist for the San Francisco Symphony, principal organist for the Palace of the Legion of Honor and teaches at...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
American Philharmonic, Sonoma County / Sunday, February 20, 2011
American Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
Gabriel Sakakeeny, conductor

Conductor Gabriel Sakakeeny

STERLING BEETHOVEN AND CHAUSSON IN FINAL SAKAKEENY AMERICAN PHIL CONCERTS AT WELLS

by Candace N. English
Sunday, February 20, 2011

As classical music events go, the atmosphere of an American Philharmonic Sonoma County concert seems casual, but the performances Feb. 19 and 20 at the Wells Center were anything but. The orchestra's recent 12-day tour of China has clearly congealed the group into a body of musicians capable of reaching heretofore unattainable heights of musicianship and beauty.

Philharmonic concerts, being community oriented, always begin with greetings and comments by conductor Gabriel Sakakeeny, which means that the orchestra comes on stage and sits quietly for some length of time before the first downbeat finally arrives. Their ability to launch into a stirring overture, after this apparent lull, has always been impressive to me, and this occasion was no exception

The program began with the Brahms Tragic Overture, Op. 81, composed in 1880. This work is an example of the composer's extraordinary command of traditional form and orchestration, yet at the same time it illustrates his experimentation with sonata form and clear intent to ellicit strong emotions. This work, dark and beautifully crafted, begins with a grand tutti as the first of three distinct themes is introduced. Soon things quiet down a bit and we hear the second theme, played here to perfection by oboist Chris Krive. The horns barely allude to the third theme before it is taken up by the violins, and without further ado the ingenious development is underway. I saw myself at a great loom, weaving themes. I imagined the mingling of different colors and textures, woven and blended together in a fine tapestry, until a brilliant tympani moment, played by Tony Blake, brought me back into the hall, wondering what will happen next.

Surprisingly, here the tympani do not herald the recapitulation, as is often the case, but return us to the loom, for more dark weavings, until the first theme finally reemerges with stunning clarity and we are propelled into the dramatic and turbulent coda. Its forward momentum is stalled briefly by woodwinds who seem to be asking, "Shall we add a bit more red, or black, before tying off?" Writers have called this work somber, grim, the coda a "final disaster". To me, its impression is not all that tragic, but surely brilliant and ultimately victorious.

Mr. Sakakeeny introduced the second work, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, by putting the piece in historical context and pointing out special moments to listen for. Composed in 1894 and based on a poem by Mallarm�, the clearly programmatic nature is characterized by lust and animism. The opening flute solo, so poignant and familiar but too often rendered with a large portion of schmaltz, was played with delicate beauty and purity by Debra Ortega. The musical material of the Prelude could be characterized not as themes but rather as scenes, freely evoking the sensuality of the Mallarm� poem. The music sounded almost improvisational, foreshadowing the future of symphonic music with its use of whole tone scales, forbidden tri-tones, unusual voicings, tone clusters and washes, all with mixed and alternating meters that transport us out of musical time as we thought we knew it. The conductor's fluid and graceful baton underscored the rhythmic infrastructure of this work. This seminal work was choreographed by Nijinsky, praised by Boulez as the awakening of modern music and even said to be Michael Jackson's "favorite song." Having attended or played in every American Philharmonic program for the last six years, it seems the orchestra has never sounded better than when playing this profound and complicated music. The experience was completely transcendent.

Ernst Chausson is an interesting, lesser-known composer, who was born and lived in Paris during the latter half of the 19th Century. Coming from a well-to-do family, he became a barrister in the Paris Court of Appeals before deciding on a musical career, studying with Massenet. Of his approximately 60 works, the overwhelming majority feature the voice singing lyrical poetry. Chausson's Poeme is the exception to the rule, because instead of being sung and based on a poem, it is a poem, a beautiful and expansive musical poem for violin and orchestra. Violinist Solenne Seguillon, born in France, performed the solo part. To describe her playing as �poetry in motion� might sound like a clich�. Her performance of this work, part of the standard violin repertoire, revealed a great depth of feeling and understanding of the intricate material. Her technique, though not flawless, was well suited to the Chausson. Ms. Seguillon's extraordinary musicality and gorgeous tone were everywhere evident.

After intermission, Congressperson Lynn Woolsey spoke emphasizing the need for art and music education, and there were presentations honoring the 12 years of Mr. Sakakeeny's leadership. Again, the orchestra sat for long minutes, this time waiting for the empty downbeat of one of the most famous works in the symphonic repertoire, Beethoven's C Minor Symphony, Op. 67. To think that this work was composed over at least four years time by a man who was going deaf, and who probably never heard his masterwork performed, fills me with compassion. The rigors and complexity of Beethoven's Fifth, an arduous effort for both orchestra and conductor, were handled admirably by the Philharmonic. Mr. Sakakeeny and the orchestra were in high gear, commanding and driving the giant tutti sections, executing the more transparent moments with finesse and inspiration. There were minor imperfections at times, and holding this Symphony together is no small feat, but the excitement never waned. The pathos, commitment, inspiration and sheer grit of this performance was a memorable experience. The violins were not numerous enough to make a strong impression but the precision and power of the lower strings, especially in the last movement, exceeded anything I've ever heard from this orchestra. When it was over, the final chord dying away, there lingered in the hall a rare sense of validation, accomplishment and solidarity shared by orchestra and audience alike.

These concerts were said to have been the last for which Mr. Sakakeeny will be the regular conductor. He will stay on for a time in the role of musical director, helping to lead the orchestra into its next phase of development. Noting the current penchant of American orchestras for leadership by conductors who are foreign nationals, one can ask rhetorically why he has not received greater recognition with guest appearances and recording opportunities.