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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...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 9, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Roy Zajac, clarinet

Clarinetist Roy Zajac

PLAYING HEARTS: IT'S ZAJAC IN SPADES

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 9, 2013

At symphony concerts, soloists need to be both sonically and visually distinctive. For the latter requirement, what better way to sail above a sea of black-jacketed players than to don a jaunty white blazer with black lapels and a black bowtie? That was the approach soloist Roy Zajac took in a memorable Feb. 9 performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony.

By wearing his trademark "Za-jacket,"ť Zajac established his distinction before even playing a note. When the notes did arrive, however, the jacket was as nothing compared to the sonic beauty emerging from the bell of his clarinet. His tone was both liquid and luxurious, each note a perfectly rounded sphere on a string of pearls. His low register was particularly mellow, with occasional deep runs bathing the audience in waves of sound.

Zajac, who normally serves as the Symphony's principal clarinetist, combined the sonic and visual realms by swaying demurely as he played, each motion reflecting a musical phrase. With his feet planted shoulder width apart, he bent at the knees for low notes, swayed right for Mozart's inimitable phrases, and then left for the phrase's echo. You could reconstruct the entirety of the solo line just by watching his ever-changing posture.

And what a solo line it is! The Clarinet Concerto is one of Mozart's greatest compositions, each movement a masterpiece, and the whole even greater than the sum of its parts. In this performance, the opening Allegro was lilting and buoyant, and the closing Rondo up-tempo and joyous. But the most breathtaking movement was the middle Adagio, blessed as it is with some of Mozart's most beautiful melodies. Zajac played these to perfection, coaxing the softest of pianissimos from his instrument and lingering on each passing note. Not even a brief memory lapse could interrupt the flow of this exquisite performance.

Afterward the shy Zajac seemed almost embarrassed by the audience's rousing ovation, and he appeared truly startled when a Symphony staff member presented him with a giant bouquet of yellow roses. With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, the gesture seemed particularly appropriate. Who couldn't avoid falling in love with a performance such as that?

The rest of the concert, resplendent though it was, stood in Zajac's shadow. The festivities began with the full orchestra, including harp and all manner of imposing percussion and brass, playing Anton Webern's "Passacaglia for Orchestra," Opus 1. As one might expect from an Opus 1, it contained everything but the kitchen sink. Unlike his later austere works, Webern in his youth seemed intent on emulating Mahler and other late Romantics by employing the full forces of the orchestra to create a dense, almost overwhelming, tapestry of sound.

The Passacaglia begins pizzicato and pianissimo, with various sections of the orchestra stating their lines and then fading away. This call-and-response builds up rapidly, however, and soon the entire ensemble is blazing away, only to fade once again and repeat the pattern. The result is a piece that lunges from climax to climax, with little room to breathe.

Despite Webern's youthful excess, Ferrandis and company played the Passacaglia with insight and respect. The various lines were well articulated, and the orchestra combined to make occasional gorgeous sounds. But the Passacaglia can't be more than what it is. No matter what, it's still Opus 1.

In contrast to Webern's Opus 1, Brahms' Third Symphony, Opus 90, is a work of confident maturity and assured artistry, a staple of the symphonic repertoire. It begins majestically and ends with surprising quiescence. In between is some of Brahms' greatest music, most notably the Poco Allegretto third movement, with its distinctive cello line.

The Symphony cellists, urged on by Ferrandis, opened that movement with just the right combination of rhythmic fluidity and silken texture. Their line, eventually picked up by the rest of the orchestra, is really just three notes rising and then three notes falling--simplicity itself. But in the hands of Brahms (and his performers), that six-note motif flowers into a movement of transcendent beauty.

Ferrandis conducted that movement and its predecessors with sweeping gestures that befit his tall frame. His approach changed dramatically in the spirited last movement, where he seemed to get more energy and precision from the players by standing almost still. The more compressed his gestures became, the more results he got. The playing throughout was exemplary, especially from the cellos, who rose as a section at the end of the performance to acknowledge the sustained applause.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]