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Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
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
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
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 ...
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.