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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

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane

SR SYMPHONY TRIUMPHS IN FIRST INNING AT GREEN MUSIC CENTER

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, September 30, 2012

Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural concert in the new Green Music Center on Sept. 30, the audience was warned that there would be lots of opportunities for applause, but that didn’t stop them from delivering repeated ovations throughout the blazing Indian Summer afternoon. The first came before a note had been played, when Don Green was introduced. Without him there would be no Green Music Center, and the full house rose applauding to acknowledge his presence at the back of the hall.

As Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow noted in his opening remarks, one word captures the essence of the music center: wow. “It’s a 10 on the wow Richter scale,” he exulted, gesturing to the magnificent architectural surroundings, which were at their absolute prime in the glowing autumnal sun. Light streamed in through all the windows, and fresh air through the wide-open back wall, beyond which stretched a sun-drenched crowd that seemed as large as the one inside.

Mr. Silow expressed the hope that, thanks to the music center, Sonoma County would become as well known for the quality of its culture as for the quality of its wine. With that aspiration still hanging in the air, conductor emeritus Corrick Brown strode upon the stage and bid the orchestra and chorus to rise for a spirited rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The anthem began with a drum roll at the back of the hall, followed by thunderous playing and singing from the stage. When it was over, nobody shouted, “Play ball,” but the effect was nonetheless the same. The audience was ready for action.

First up to bat was Mr. Brown himself, who stayed on stage to conduct Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” overture, an almost obligatory opening piece for new concert halls. Brown, who is in his 80s, shows no sign of slowing down, and he conducted the overture with panache, even eschewing the customary baton. The tempo was stately, the musical lines distinctive, the crescendos effective, and the balance excellent. The basses were particularly resonant, their low notes seeming to meld with all the surrounding wood.

After the applause subsided, the stagehands wheeled out a Steinway concert grand perilously close to the edge of the stage. The instrument’s player arrived a few minutes later, in the person of conductor laureate Jeffrey Kahane, followed by the symphony’s current conductor, Bruno Ferrandis. Both men were warmly greeted--another standing ovation--and then took their respective at-bats with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.

Mr. Kahane eased into the concerto’s distinctive opening with real feeling, bringing out each note to the full. Moments later the orchestra matched his subtlety with a remarkably smooth entry. The back-and-forth between the pianist and the orchestra built in intensity throughout the movement, with both moving irresistibly forward. The acoustics in the hall seem especially well suited for piano sound. Every note is clear, even in the most dense runs, and the dynamic contrast between pianissimos and fortissimos is palpable.

Mr. Kahane used these acoustic advantages to the max. One trill in particular started off as a roaring lion but rapidly morphed into a purring kitten. The artist himself was a study in metamorphosis, often leaning back and staring up as if receiving energy from above, then suddenly plunging forward into the keyboard. At other times, he shook his head, arched his eyebrows and closed his eyes. His playing in the cadenza was exceptionally memorable, and the transition back to the orchestra was exquisite.

The brief second movement was as ethereal as it gets, compounded by the remarkable quietude of the hall itself. No one dropped the proverbial pin, but there was a distant airplane flying by. The concluding Rondo began at a rapid pace, showcasing Mr. Kahane’s furious energy and bravura runs up and down the keyboard. A syncopated section with the violas was distinctly effective, with piano and strings meshing tightly despite their rhythmic divergence.

The tempestuous ending brought an equally tempestuous ovation, the third of the day--but who’s counting? The applause, however, was soon replaced by a smattering of complaints when people on the east side of the hall realized they had few alternatives other than long lines for reaching the main lobby on the west side. For all its magnificence, the music center might benefit from a couple sessions with a foot-traffic engineer.

The second half began with another overture, this one the world premiere of the “Sonoma Overture” by Petaluma composer Nolan Gasser. The work began with rapid quintuplets and other short phrases in the strings. The effect was one of murmuring yet rapid motion. The sound became more distinctive with the addition of a marimba, but pretty soon everyone got into the act, and the piece transmuted into a fanfare evoking the local scenery. It was pleasurable but not quite indelible.

Far more consequential was the next offering, the rarely performed “Canticle of Freedom,” for orchestra and chorus, by Aaron Copland. Originally composed for the opening of Kresge Auditorium at MIT in 1955, the canticle is classic Copland with wide-open chords and broad harmonies. The beginning is enchanting. The themes open out gradually, interspersed with hunting calls, and a tense expectancy hovers in the air. Mr. Ferrandis was clearly in his element, using restrained clocklike motions to usher in each new musical line as the music continued to build to a shattering climax punctuated by a resonant gong.

After a trumpet solo, the choir entered with the words of the medieval Scottish poet John Barbour: “Freedom is a noble thing!” Every word was distinct, and the choral sound was full and rich. With around 100 singers drawn from the Sonoma Bach Choir and various student choruses, the assembled multitude could make itself heard above the orchestra, although the balance was sometimes tenuous. The key phrase, however, rang out with consistency. Freedom is indeed a noble thing.

Just as Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” is almost de rigeur for inaugurating concert halls, so too is Ravel’s “Bolero” for showing off all the orchestra’s various sections, starting with the percussion, spreading to the woodwinds, sweeping up the strings, and culminating with the brass. It’s a no-longer-young person’s guide to the orchestra, easily distinguished from Benjamin Britten’s orchestral guide for young people by its underlying eroticism.

The playing in this instance was exemplary. The snare drum never varied from its incessant rhythmic figure, and the pizzicatos were pointedly perfect. Each woodwind and brass solo was better than the last, culminating in a stupendous trombone riff. Toward the end all one could do was to sit back and luxuriate in the veritable cloud of orchestral sound. As before, Mr. Ferrandis was in complete control, ushering the orchestra step by step from the opening pianissimo to the final thunderclap. Yet another standing ovation.

Moments later, the audience got a chance to use its hands in a more musical fashion, clapping along with the Radetzky March, a favorite encore by Johann Strauss the elder. They clearly enjoyed Mr. Ferrandis’s exhortations to clap loudly or softly, as befitting the music, and everyone got an idea of what it’s like to make music together. It’s a noble thing.