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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Ukiah Symphony / Sunday, May 15, 2011
Ukiah Symphony Orchestra
Les Pfutzenreuter, conductor
Elena Casanova, piano

Conductor Les Pfutzenreuter Leads Applause for Pianist Elena Casanova May 15

ENERGETIC RUSSIAN WORKS END UKIAH SYMPHONY SEASON AT MENDOCINO COLLEGE

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Balances in an orchestral concert, especially works from just one nation’s composers, are tough to graciously achieve. The Ukiah Symphony’s closing concert May 15 was heavily weighted with boisterous Russian works, and balances to some degree proved to be a concert-long problem.

Somehow a quiet piece slipped in to begin the event, Borodin’s tone poem “In The Steps of Central Asia,” and it was beautifully played. Principal flutist Becky Ayers and principal horn Ben Robinson had the lush opening themes and the tempos chosen by music director Les Pfutzenreuter were judicious. The brass had the requisite sonic punch, something they would need all afternoon.

Works by Khachaturian completed the first half, both muscular and pleasing to the audience of 350 in Mendocino College’s Center Theater. The ubiquitous Saber Dance in G Major (from the ballet “Gayane”) was first, the opening ostinato from timpanist Gabriel Sakakeeny telling and setting up whirlwind playing from the strings. It was mostly loud, raucous and though a pop favorite, heavily applauded. The equally potent Piano Concerto in D-Flat Major, Op. 38, continued the Orchestra’s penchant for sonic fireworks. Slow tempos were again selected and soloist Elena Casanova, playing from score, was in complete sympathy with Mr. Pfutzenreuter’s baton. Ms. Casanova’s octave technique, elfin scales and lyrical phrasing in the opening Allegro were effective, but often she was more seen than heard. The balance between the orchestra and the piano in this raw-boned work worked against the soloist, the horns and timpani often covering the piano line. The conductor sporadically tried to quiet things down, but it’s that kind of piece and the Symphony had mostly free reign. String sound throughout was very good save for raspy viola playing.

The lovely introduction to the Andante con anima was played by what I think was a bass clarinet, presumably in Erick Van Dyke’s capable hands, and the piano cadenza was characteristically insistent and artfully crafted. A novel instrument, an electronic wave length Theremin, had a negligible part and was played by Francis Rutherford.

The balances improved in the finale (Allegro) and the pianist’s right-hand skips and left-hand crossovers were always accurate. The jazz influence was underscored by the conductor and Ms. Casanova’s projection seemed to be getting stronger as the movement unfolded, her concentration riveting up to the final five dissonant chords. The Concerto is something one would hesitate to listen to every day, but a wild ovation indicated that the audience would perhaps have liked it again. There was no encore. Does the Ukiah Symphony encourage an encore from a soloist? The practice was essentially prohibited by orchestra management for decades, but now it is fairly common, and nearly always heard in Santa Rosa, Marin and Napa Valley Symphony concerts.

Mention needs to be made that the concert piano was positioned stage front at the beginning of the concert, thus saving setup time between the two Khachaturian pieces. Many orchestras still don’t do this and the Symphony stage manager is to be thanked for moving things along.

By far the best work Sunday occupied the entire second half, Stravinsky’s Suite from the ballet Firebird. As in many of the great Russian’s works (e. g., the Symphony of Psalms, the 1924 Piano Sonata) the bold rhythmic patterns are immediately established and in diverse ways carry through the five parts. Several parts melded together under the conductor’s direction, and here again the tempos were never rushed, the masterful orchestration always distinct. Stravinsky wasn’t a student of Rimsky for nothing. In the section “The Princesses’ Khorovod” there were fetching successive solos by oboist Beth Aiken, cellist Clovice Lewis, clarinetist Van Dyke and French horn player Mr. Robinson, over string tremolos. Mr. Pfutzenreuter was also able to coax some captivating pianissimos from his players.

The “Infernal Dance” part brought out some fine ensemble playing, albeit with the horns struggling to keep up. The fast parts found the conductor using a bevy of cues to keep all the sonic lines together. It was a convincing performance and surely a highlight of the season.

At intermission long-time Board member and section violinist Mary Carnevale was honored for her years of service (she is moving from Ukiah) and Mr. Pfutzenreuter made an impassioned speech for support of the arts program at Mendocino College, currently threatened by draconian budget cuts.