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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...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
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.