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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 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...
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 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.