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Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Alasdair Neal, conductor.Monica Ohuchi, piano

Composer Kenji Bunch and Pianist Monica Ohuchi

FAMILY PIANO CONCERTO AND MAHLER'S FIRST SYMPHONY AT MARIN CONCERT NOV. 8

by John Metz
Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Marin Symphony’s Nov. 8 concert in the Marin Center featured the West Coast premiere of Kenji Bunch’s new Piano Concerto. Mr. Bunch, a Portland native and Juilliard School graduate, describes the work as a true “family project,” as he wrote it for his wife Monica Ohuchi, the evening’s soloist.

Mr. Bunch is a composer for whom dogma holds no currency, as he writes with an eclecticism that unapologetically blends the styles of pop and classical music, revealing influences of rock, electronica, film music, and more. He’s even given to borrowing musical themes from 1970’s TV shows.

And indeed this new addition to the composer’s oeuvre is no exception. It begins with a rhythmic fabric woven by the winds, harp, percussion, and sustained strings, outlining lush harmonies suggestive of ambient electronica. The piano enters on an offbeat “blue note,” allowing Ms. Ohuchi to immediately draw us in, as she articulates a somber melody, rich in its jazz influence. Intensity builds in the development, which eventually leads to a recapitulation of the opening fabric, now with piano participating. This soon evolves into an inevitable grand climax, which, by the composer’s own admission, is “pure Hollywood,” though justified by the quirkiness of the music embedding it.

The slow movement features more colorful writing for the piano and winds. And the finale is a Brazilian dance, rife with bongos, maracas, and woodblocks. It is obvious this piece was written for Ohuchi, as it plays to all her strengths, particularly her rich and colorful tone quality. This is the second work of Bunch’s that conductor Alasdair Neale and Marin Symphony have championed, and it most certainly will not be the last.

After an adventurous opening half, the orchestra returned to familiar territory with a single work, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major. The opening scene unfolded slowly, with the strings holding a sustained A, while in the distance, offstage trumpet fanfares call forth. Birdcalls are repeated in the clarinet, which brings us to the main theme, played by the cellos. The movement built in intensity, moving from hunting horn calls, to eerie harp lines, and an eventual frenzied climax into which Mr. Neale and his orchestra poured forth all their energy.

The second movement begins with a Ländler, an Austrian peasant waltz, introduced by the horns. This pedestrian waltz is balanced by a noble and gentler waltz, appearing in the middle of the movement. Such juxtaposition of the noble and the grotesque, the sublime and the banal, is exactly what Mahler’s symphonies are all about. The slow movement, a funeral march based on a minor-key version of Frère Jacques, demands control and great sensitivity in performance, not to mention orchestral balance, but the latter was at times missing in this evening’s performance. The fourth movement is a storm featuring sweeping themes in the brass, which performed with skill but ultimately lacked potency.

At first glance, the evening’s two works are quite dissimilar. An epic Late Romantic tour de force of a symphony pitted against a quirky, offbeat, and even “poppy” piano concerto. But just as Mahler blended the common and the noble, so too does Mr. Bunch blend the popular and the classical. And both with great results.