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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 09, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Roy Zajac, clarinet

Clarinetist Roy Zajac

PLAYING HEARTS: IT'S ZAJAC IN SPADES

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 09, 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,"¯ 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.]