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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...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, September 12, 2013
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor. Yefim Bronfman, piano

Michael Tilson Thomas' Curtain Call in Weill Sept. 12

CHALLENGING WORKS FROM A POWERHOUSE ORCHESTRA

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Launching the first fall season concert in Weill Hall, the San Francisco Symphony played a peculiarly challenging program Sept. 12 to an audience that was happy to encounter more than just the popular Tchaikovsky B Flat Piano Concerto.

"Challenging" was the operative word for the Third Prokofiev Symphony, a work from 1928 that has few current podium champions. One conductor who loves the work is Michael Tilson Thomas, and he drew an inspired and brilliant performance from his orchestra. This is a corrosive piece, not as easily assimilated as the composer’s First and Fifth Symphonies, and the audience of 1,100 seemed dazed at the initial clangor and dissonance of the opening Moderato. Mr. Thomas adopted a quick march-like tempo, and balances were critical, as the piece needs sonic space and careful baton control to convey the prevailing mood of unrest. Brass and tympani playing were terrific, and a lonely note from bassoonist Stephen Paulson ended the movement.

A bucolic Andante led into the third movement’s intricate string passages, the long first section sans winds or brass. The scintillating playing brought the music to a caricature of a high-level film score. There were virtuoso brass, flute and piccolo solos throughout.

Mr. Thomas drove the finale like a determined massive machine, plodding at first and really pretty grim until ending with heavy percussion blows and blaring but crystal-clear brass. The applause was strong but not overwhelming, perhaps more in admiration for the orchestra’s sonic achievement than appreciation of the complicated and demanding music.

Tchaikovsky’s Op. 23 Concerto, with Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, concluded the first half. As in Mr. Bronfman’s Beethoven concerto performance last season with the same orchestra, the playing was replete hallmarks of his artistry--secure scales, a strong left hand and octaves that never failed him in a concerto crammed with fast two-hand octave passages. But as in his first Weill Hall performance, Mr. Bronfman brought little that was individual in his interpretation, and his habit of half-pedaling descending runs hampered clarity. Solos from clarinetist Carey Bell and flutist Tim Say were splendid, as was beautiful oboe playing from acting Principal Jonathan Fischer

Though Mr. Bronfman had the requisite power for the Concerto, the acoustics in the wonderful Weill Hall favor a big orchestra, and one wonders if even the most orchestral of pianists--powerhouses like Horowitz, Hofmann and even Anton Rubinstein--could be clearly heard in fortissimo passages over Mr. Thomas’ resounding orchestra.

The concert opened with Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri's 12-minute exploration of eerie sound, Lineage (2013). Written for Miami’s New World Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony, the piece is a mournful and haunting set of recurring small themes, flitting about with sharp contrasting passages. Ms. Di Castri, in the audience and greeted by the conductor at the work’s conclusion, asks for a large orchestra to produce a ghostly tapestry of sound, and I counted five percussionists (with loud bells, chimes, and marimba), piano and celesta. It was daring music in its whirling and spooky way, a highlight of the evening, and received a glorious performance and a happily intrigued audience reaction. Lineage is a colorful candidate for entering the San Francisco Symphony’s repertoire.

Though the hall’s galleries were full, many orchestra-level seats were conspicuously empty at this concert, perhaps reflecting the husky ticket prices for prime seats.