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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, March 7, 2013
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. Yuja Wang, piano

Pianist Yuja Wang

THE MAJESTIC INEVITABLE

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, March 7, 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.