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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
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.