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Recital
SCHUMANN AND BARTOK HIGHLIGHT BRONFMAN RECITAL IN WEILL
by Lee Ormasa
Friday, April 21, 2017
Those people once addicted to the “Angry Birds” game application likely suffered an auditory flashback during the opening measures of the allegro from Bartok’s Suite, Op. 14, the opening work in Yefim Bronfman’s April 21 recital at Weill Hall. The repetitive opening figures of the Bartok were...
Symphony
HULKING MAHLER "TITAN" AT SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 08, 2017
A composer’s first symphony rarely gives a clear indication of what beautiful complexities will follow over the years. Early Mozart and Tchaikovsky are examples, and the big exceptions to this axiom are the “firsts” of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mahler. Tackling Mahler ‘s D Major Symphony (No. 1,...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STAYS CLOSE TO HOME
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Santa Rosa Symphony concerts usually feature high-powered soloists imported from afar, but for their recent “Bring on the Strings” concert set, they stuck close to home, thrusting their principal violin, viola and cello into the limelight. The violinist (Joseph Edelberg) and the violist (Elizabeth P...
Recital
SLAM BANG SONORITY IN HAOCHEN ZHANG'S SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Piano Competition winners are in ample supply, and it’s often a hit and miss proposition as to their sterling interpretative qualities. However, the quadrennial Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth has continually produced top-level artists, and the 2009 winner Haochen Zhang proved a formidable per...
Symphony
FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHARACTERS OF THE BAROQUE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known as Akamus, played a Weill Hall concert March 12 in a program called "Foreign Affairs -Characters of the Baroque.” The ensemble, that began in 1984, has 15 musicians led by concert master Bernhard Forck. Attired in elegant black with red accents, ranging from tie...
Recital
MUSCULAR PIANISM DOMINATES MILL VALLEY CHAMBER SOCIETY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Piano recitals since the beginning of the genre open with finger pieces - Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, Bach, a Mendelssohn Prelude and Fugue or perhaps Mozart or Haydn. Sarah Daneshpour’s March 12 opening work at the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society series abruptly avoided the norm with the 10-minut...
Recital
NOVEL HAYDN AND SCHUMANN IN YARDEN'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Israeli pianist Einav Yarden has been a frequent Sonoma County visitor, playing private recitals for Spring Lake Village and Concerts Grand, and twice performing for Music at Oakmont. The Berlin-based artist returned to Oakmont’s Berger Auditorium March 9 with a program that was neither for connois...
Chamber
CONSUMMATE ENSEMBLE FROM THE MIRÓ IN WEILL
by Sonia Tubridy and Nicki Bell
Sunday, March 05, 2017
A March 5 Weill hall audience of 350 leaned in to share an intimate musical space and to hear the Miró String Quartet’s sterling concert. Starting with Haydn's Op. 20, No. 4, the four musicians seemed to want listeners to be enveloped in their music. The Miró plays with the feat of being four dist...
Recital
BRILLIANT VIOLIN AND PIANO ARTISTRY CHARMS SCHROEDER HALL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 26, 2017
A tiny Schroeder Hall audience heard a flawless recital Feb. 26 by Yu-Chien Tseng, arguably the best recent local violin recital since Gil Shaham’s transversal of the complete Bach Suites in Weill and Frank Almond’s Oakmont recital in 2015. Muscular playing was the afternoon’s norm, and with pianis...
Chamber
MUSIC AND ART MELD IN ZUCKERMAN TRIO CONCERT
by Nicki Bell
Friday, February 24, 2017
A Feb. 24 Weill Hall concert by the Pinchas Zuckerman Trio juxtaposed formidable music making with palpable associations about visual art. Brahms’ C Minor "Sonatensatz” (Scherzo) is a short youthful work for violin and piano, and was an opening call to action. Lively and vigorous playing alternated...
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,"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.]