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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
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Green Music Center / Saturday, January 26, 2013
Yo Yo Ma

Weill Hall

FULL MOON, FULL HOUSE

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Under a full moon on Saturday, Jan. 26, before playing what he confidently predicted would be the first encore of the evening, cellist Yo Yo Ma paused to tell the overflow crowd at Weill Hall that they had “an unbelievable music room.” His choice of words is apt, because the magnificent space at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park has both the grandeur of a symphony hall and the intimacy of a living room, at least from a sonic perspective. From the back of the hall, every note that Ma played throughout his two-hour recital was crystal clear, from the softest pianissimo to the mightiest triple fortes. You could close your eyes and believe he was only a few feet away, despite several dozen intervening rows of seats.

Ma and his able accompanist Kathryn Stott capitalized on this intimacy by shaping each note and phrase for maximum effect. The master cellist never seemed to play the same note twice, approaching each one as a unique entity, worthy of its own attention. This approach was nowhere more evident than in his mesmerizing rendition of Olivier Messiaen’s “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus,” in which his sustained and assured vibrato coaxed each long note into being and then let it fade away. A hush fell over the audience, which had just returned from intermission, as Ma proceeded through Messiaen’s serene but driven masterpiece.

Like many other selections in the recital, “Praise” was taken somewhat out of context so it would fit into Ma’s creative programming. The piece is actually the fifth movement of Messiaen’s eight-movement “Quartet for the End of Time.” Likewise, Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Spanish Folksongs,” which closed the first half of the show, were originally written for soprano, and the majestic Brahms sonata that concluded the evening was originally written for violin. No matter. Ma took them all and made them sound like each composer had really intended them for the cello.

As Ma hinted at the end of the show, one reason for all the transcriptions was to give the audience a whirlwind tour of the geography of classical music, beginning with the Russian Igor Stravinsky’s “Italian Suite,” followed by three pieces from South America, the seven Spanish songs, the French “Praise,” and the Austro-German sonata. For good measure, the encores were English (Elgar) and American (Gershwin).

The “Italian Suite”--which is yet another transcription, this time by the composer--got things rolling in a hurry. This collection of lively Baroque-inspired tunes is a virtuosic challenge for cellists, and even Ma had some intonation problems in some of the faster runs at the upper end of the fingerboard. These blemishes were trivial, however, compared to the immense musicality that Ma brought to the suite. The opening phrase was distinctly shaped, with a pregnant pause near the middle. Highlighting Stravinsky’s jagged rhythms, Ma moved his instrument around freely, with an almost casual grasp. The cello’s neck was often far to his left, and the body of the instrument well outside the normal range.

Pianist Stott was likewise far from her instrument. She played with outstretched arms and sat low on the bench. The positions of both players seemed to give them greater freedom, and their performance was a marvel of sudden stops and turns. The thrilling speed and intricacy of the next-to-last movement, a tarantella, was so compelling that the audience burst into indecorous applause.

After the manic energy of the opening suite, Ma calmed the atmosphere with the three pieces from South America, by Villa-Lobos (“Alma Brasileira”), Piazzolla (“Oblivion”) and Guarnieri (“Dansa Negra”). Of these the Piazzolla was the standout, allowing Ma to generate room-filling sound from his lower strings. His cello really began to sing during the piece, which culminates with an unforgettable downward glissando.

Several of the de Falla songs were instantly recognizable Spanish folk tunes, with characteristic Flamenco rhythms and passionate melodies. Each shone in its own way, but the final one, “Polo,” offered a particularly wonderful opportunity for Ma to display his relentless drive. His energy seemed barely contained, almost on the verge of explosion, yet he somehow managed to channel all of it into his fingers and hands.

Intermission brought a chance to stroll into the courtyard and bask under the full moon, which sat above the concert hall as if granting benediction. The sight was a perfect appetizer for the heavenly Messiaen that began the second half. Following that transcendent performance was not easy, but Ma slid into the subsequent Brahms sonata as if into a pair of well-worn slippers. Despite the transcription from violin to cello, everything fit perfectly. The assurance was complete, the story compelling, the sound gorgeous. Toward the end of the last movement, Ma stood up briefly, as if to gather strength for the final plunge and the encores to follow.