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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
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 REVIEW

Cypress String Quartet

ALONDRA DE LA PARRA: A SWAN FOR A SONG

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 6, 2011

At 31, Alondra de la Parra is a conductor of immense promise, destined to lead a major orchestra — but first she has to work her way up through the minor leagues. Fortunately for Napa County, she made a brief stop Sunday with the Napa Valley Symphony, and the results were gratifying.

The concert took place at the recently restored, 1950s-era Lincoln Theater in Yountville, home to the French Laundry and other avatars of gastronomic and oenophilic excess. The local industry is much in evidence in the theater lobby, which features three wine bars and only two auditorium doors. Inside, the grape motif continues, with fuchsia walls and purple seat cushions.

The implicit bacchanalia didn’t seem to affect the Mexican-American de la Parra, who was utterly sober throughout the concert and conducted with fastidious precision. Her movements and tempos are as well-regulated as an atomic clock, but that is only the foundation. What counts are the expressive gestures, usually made with her left hand, and the overall shape she brings to each piece.

De la Parra was most successful in the Brahms Symphony No. 1, which concluded the concert with a bang. From the opening insistent drumbeat, this was a performance driven by unrelenting rhythm and clear phrasing. Her tempos were not particularly fast, but she never let the orchestra get bogged down, no matter how thick the texture. She seemed to be calibrating the performance to the ability of the players, making sure that there were no mistakes and that each line was fully articulated.

The first movement set the tone, with de la Parra keeping steady time with the baton in her right hand, even as she swept elegantly with her left, bidding sections to swell, diminish, express, or whatever else five fingers and a well-oiled shoulder and elbow can communicate. She mostly conducted from the waist up, with her feet planted shoulder-width apart, her heels only occasionally coming together during moments of concentration.

Wonderful solos from the oboe and clarinet began the second movement, a surpassingly beautiful and serene Andante. Here de la Parra showed off her elegant, swanlike arm motions, and the orchestra responded in kind. Perhaps the Andante lingered too long, for the third movement, Allegretto, was too slow and lacked dynamic contrast. Any disappointment, however, quickly vanished in the opening bars of the last movement, with its expectant pizzicatos and dramatic buildup. The arrival of the famous theme in the violins induced de la Parra to fully extend her arms, lift her heels, and even jump. Here at last she pushed the orchestra to its limits, getting convincing playing from every section. The standing ovation at the end was well-deserved.

No ovations, standing or otherwise, greeted the pieces in the first half, which was restricted to the strings. The concert began with a lackluster performance of a slow-moving excerpt from "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" by Heitor Villa-Lobos. The piece was originally scored for eight cellos, and the transcription for string orchestra seems to have lost some heft. The performance was also hampered by somewhat less than unison playing in the violins. Perhaps more rehearsal would have brought the orchestra together.

Similar problems afflicted "Twilight at Mt. Veeder," a brief tribute to a local landmark, by orchestra bassist Robert Wright. Like the Villa-Lobos, it moved slowly, yet with better dynamics from the orchestra. Some of the lush tremolo effects sounded muddy in the 1,200-seat hall, which has fairly thin acoustics.

The orchestra and de la Parra didn’t really begin to click until a third party entered the stage, in the person of the Cypress String Quartet, offering a rare performance of Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, a one-movement concerto for string quartet and orchestra.

The Cypress is well-known to Bay Area audiences from its base at San Jose State University, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them play. It was somewhat disconcerting, however, to see its members wearing soloist-style tuxes and evening gowns and keeping their eyes on the conductor rather than each other. They settled right in nonetheless and quickly displayed why they’re such a successful string quartet. Their playing during the Elgar, during which they often alternate with the orchestra, seemed to inspire their fellow musicians, and the entire ensemble became much more unified.

The Elgar itself is well worth a listen, with a wonderful viola solo and an unexpected fugue. De la Parra coordinated all the individual lines with aplomb, allowing the quartet to shine forth or recede as need be. While not as energized as the Brahms to come, the performance was memorable.

The applause was sustained enough that the Cypress offered an encore, a vivacious rendition of the last movement of Dvořák’s “American” quartet. Here the players reverted to their usual conductorless format, communicating with each other via raised eyebrows and the like. They are fun to watch, but even better to hear.

[Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.]