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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, December 06, 2012
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. Yefim Bronfman, piano

Violinist and Composer Mark Volkert

PANDORA A BOX OF SONIC DELIGHTS AT FIRST SF SYMPHONY CONCERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, December 06, 2012

In what must be the fall season’s last blockbuster Green Music Center concert, the San Francisco Symphony played a long awaited program Dec. 6 to an almost full Weill Hall audience.There was a palpable excitement when concertmaster Alexander Barantchik and then conductor Michael Tilson Thomas entered and happily acknowledged loud applause from the assembly and standing orchestra members.

The first half was extraordinary, a champagne orgy of orchestral sound that began with Strauss’ early Op. 28 tone poem Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. String attacks and releases were impeccable and the violins and violas had a deep cohesive sound, playing off the wonderful horn parts. The trombones were brassy and sounded as one. Mr. Barantschik’s solo passages, including a delicious long descending scale midway in the boisterous composition, were virtuosic. William Bennett’s oboe playing was soulful and gracefully imitated a languorous human voice.

Mr. Thomas’ control of the interplay of instrumental sections, especially at low volume levels, was masterful.

Associate Concertmaster Mark Volkert stepped into the composer’s role before the halftime break as his orchestra played Pandora, an amazing twenty-three minute display piece for strings alone. The world premiere was the previous evening. Mr. Thomas provided introductory remarks for the work’s mythological origins and the Symphony launched into a mysterious introductory section of high violin sound. Solo passages were subsequently handed around, beginning with elegant playing by bassist Scott Pingel, cellist Peter Wyrick and ultimately an enchanting duo from Mr. Barantschik and stand partner Jeremy Constant. The conductor was able to balance the two lyrical sections and impetuous outbursts to telling effect. It was a brilliant antidote to the opulent harmonies of Strauss’ Til.

During this vehement but never violent piece the composer inserted intriguing effects, making a violin chirp like a flute and a horn part to resemble, albeit for a just moment, percussion sounds. Overall, there is an underlying menace to the writing and just a hint of Bartok’s pungent rhythms and Shostakovich’s sarcasm. The solo violin cadenza was deftly dispatched by Mr. Barantschik and another string duo, played by Mr. Wyrick and cellist Amos Yang, was beguiling.

Mr. Volkert is clearly a sovereign writer for strings and the performance was for me the evening’s highlight. Though long for a modern all-string composition, it merits joining the Orchestra’s repertoire.

Following intermission pianist Yefim Bronfman played Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto in E Flat, Op. 73. Known as the “Emperor” Concerto, the work abounds in mighty statements for soloist and orchestra and the music throughout commands a visceral potency. Mr. Bronfman gave a curious reading, patrician in concept but devoid of majesty or interest. His scales rippled and his fingers were faultless, but the phrasing was constantly square and heroics, inner voices and left-hand dynamic power were absent. It was irritatingly conventional, monochromatic and careful throughout.

The Orchestra played the concerto well in a low-voltage way, matching their sound to the soloist’s restrained interpretation. A standing ovation ensued.