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Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
Chamber
THREE BEETHOVEN TRIOS BEGUILE AUDIENCE IN FEB. 19 WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Chamber music concerts featuring one composer can be tricky, but the Han/Setzer/Finckel trio made a Feb. 19 Weill Hall audience of 500 hear and to a degree see the boundless creativity of Beethoven. The G Major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, opened the afternoon’s Beethoven odyssey and one wonders why it is t...
Chamber
AUTHORITATIVE BARTOK HIGHLIGHTS TETZLAFF VIOLIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Christian Tetzlaff’s Feb. 18 violin recital rolled along with lively and fresh readings of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert when the specter of Bartok’s granitic Second Sonata intervened. The sonic shock to the audience of 250 in Weill was palpable. Composed in 1923 the 20-minute two-movement work i...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Napa Valley Symphony / Sunday, November 06, 2011
Alondra de la Parra, conductor. Cypress String Quartet, soloists: Cecily Ward and Tim Stone, violins; Ethan Filner, viola; Jennifer Kloetzel, cello.

Cypress String Quartet

ALONDRA DE LA PARRA: A SWAN FOR A SONG

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 06, 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.]