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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...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, March 07, 2013
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. Yuja Wang, piano

Pianist Yuja Wang

THE MAJESTIC INEVITABLE

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 is famous for beginning with a piano solo rather than the usual orchestral introduction. To use a literary term, it begins "in media res"--in the middle of things.

My experience of the San Francisco Symphony concert at the Green Music Center on March 7 likewise began "in media res," thanks to its poorly designed parking lot and the long line of people waiting to get in. The upshot was that I missed about half the opening work: "Drift and Providence," by the 26-year old American composer Samuel Adams, son of the famous minimalist composer John Adams.

Someday the Adams family may become as synonymous with American music making as the Bach family in Germany. Even though I heard only the latter half of "Drift and Providence," it is clearly an accomplished work by a composer of singular promise. The most notable element is the orchestration, for which the younger Adams has a natural gift. The various orchestral sections mingle with each other in complex and intertwining relationships, creating a density of sound that verges on the ethereal. The percussion is particularly distinctive, with many unusual instruments in the mix, including scraped brake drums and cow bells. A rare contrabass clarinet adds to the sonic panoply.

I hope to hear "Drift and Providence" in its entirety someday, but the opportunities may be few. In contrast, one has ample chance to hear Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, which received its second airing at the Green Music Center this season alone--the first was from Jeffrey Kahane at the opening concert last fall.

Here the soloist was Yuja Wang, a rising star in the classical music world, younger even than Samuel Adams. In contrast to Kahane, who plays with copious body English, Ms. Wang is a picture of restraint, hovering head-down over the keyboard and letting her elegantly sculpted arms and fingers do all the work. She generates tremendous power from her slim frame, and her fingers are a marvel of prestidigitation.

Ms. Wang played the concerto's magical opening chords with authority, immediately placing herself on an equal footing with the San Francisco Symphony, one of the world's great orchestras. Her interactions with the orchestra throughout the first movement were revelatory, each one fully articulating its lines and waiting for the other's response. The cadenza was outstanding. Under Ms. Wang's fingers, it had the intensity and complexity of one of Beethoven's late piano sonatas, a work unto itself.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas chose a remarkably slow tempo for the second movement, a pace that might have dragged other pianists down. But Ms. Wang turned the speed to her advantage, letting each note ring out with an unwavering beat. She entered the third movement at full speed, exchanging syncopated phrases with the orchestra in a delightful and ever-escalating call-and-response. The standing ovation at the end was both immediate and thunderous.

To fulfill the classic pattern of contemporary work, concerto, intermission, symphony, MTT chose the inexhaustible Brahms Symphony No. 1, a work so frequently performed that it has become almost an audition piece for measuring the capabilities of different orchestras. Given that the San Francisco Symphony is "auditioning" for a recurring series at the Green Music Center, they passed with flying colors. Their performance was, in a word, magnificent.

MTT started the proceedings with his trademark sweeping gestures, bringing forth a gorgeous unified sound that was both forceful and precise. An exceedingly ambidextrous conductor, MTT is both expressive and easy to read. He knows how to invest music with real drama, and he coaxes the most out of his superb musicians.

Each movement of the Brahms was better than the last. The first was dominated by the strings, who displayed remarkable dynamic control and coherent bowing. The winds carried the second, with its famous oboe solo. The third was silken smooth, the orchestra gliding along as if on a cloud. But the players, like Brahms, saved the best for last. The fourth began with strong pizzicato, a tremendous build-up, powerful brass, and then the majestic inevitable: an indelible theme as recognizable as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

The orchestra played throughout with tremendous energy and a deep appreciation of the score. Brahms may be ubiquitous, but that doesn't diminish the power of his music. If anything, it gets better on repeated hearing, particularly in performances as powerful as this one.