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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
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.