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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...
Opera
DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017
Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedi...
Recital
NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
San Francisco Symphony / Thursday, November 21, 2013
Semyon Bychkov, conductor. Till Fellner, piano

Conductor Semyon Bychkov

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, November 21, 2013

One way to get a free glass of wine is to buy a ticket to a San Francisco Symphony concert at the Green Music Center, wait for a dark and stormy night, then stroll into Weill Hall and behold a nearly empty stage, with only a solitary cellist tuning his instrument.

That's what happened on Thursday evening, Nov. 21, when the Symphony's buses were delayed on Highway 101 by a fallen tree and a massive traffic jam. Promptly at 8, a Symphony representative walked on stage and announced that the concert would be postponed until 8:30, at which point GMC Executive Director Larry Furukawa-Schlereth announced that everyone would get a free glass of wine. A mass exodus ensued.

The stormy night provided a fitting context for the eventual program, which did begin as promised. The first half offered the brooding Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24, one of his few concertos in a minor key (C minor), and perhaps his most introspective. Mozart's anguish then gave way in the second half to Richard Strauss's ebullient "An Alpine Symphony," a veritable avalanche of sound, complete with wind and thunder machines.

Austrian pianist Till Fellner played the role of Mozart, who premiered his C minor concerto in April 1786 to a presumably befuddled Viennese audience. Unlike almost all his other concertos, the C minor is neither happy, nor flashy, nor crowd-pleasing. It's also not so much a piano concerto as a sinfonia concertante for woodwinds, who are featured throughout the work.

Fellner is an exceedingly correct pianist. He sits ramrod-straight on the piano bench, with nary a wasted motion. When playing, his elbows are just slightly bent, but somehow his fingers act as spring-loaded triggers, striking the keys with the utmost precision and fortitude.

Gently urged forward by guest conductor Semyon Bychkov, a reduced band of Symphony players intoned the concerto's doleful introduction, which sounds like the beginning of a march to the scaffold. The tempo was luxuriant, the motion fluid, the texture polished. Upon entry, Fellner was a model of restraint, playing his line with the utmost precision and extolling the virtues of quietude. His only release came during the operatic cadenza, which he played to perfection.

The restraint continued into the second movement, where Fellner offered an almost staccato approach to the deceptively simple melody (one note, then two, then three ascending, then five descending) that recurs throughout the Rondo form. His touch was feather-light, his timing impeccable.

The tempo was again luxurious in the finale, a set of variations with occasional glimpses of a major key within an ultimately triumphant minor mode. Fellner's left hand was particularly strong in bringing out the grim rhythms and moods that dominate the work. At the end, the applause from the nearly full house was subdued, without the customary ovation--but then it's hard to imagine anyone jumping up and cheering after such a somber work.

The ovation came at the end of the program, after an impassioned reading of Richard Strauss's "Alpine Symphony," the last in his long series of tone poems. The term "symphony" is actually a misnomer in this case because the work is just one long movement with 22 separate episodes, with little of the thematic development that one encounters in a typical symphony. Instead, it's all about painting pictures with sound.

Strauss works on a massive canvas with an inordinate number of brushes and colors. His score calls for about 130 players on a stupefying array of instruments, including not only the aforementioned wind and thunder machines, but also a heckelphone (bass oboe), four Wagner horns, innumerable percussion instruments, an organ, two harps and an offstage brass ensemble.

Keeping this menagerie under control is more than a challenge, but Bychkov seemed utterly unperturbed. He kept his feet firmly planted on the podium, compelling the orchestra to do his bidding through graceful movements of his baton and occasional shakes of his curly hair. The low, slow beginning ("Night") seemed almost frozen, with the violins barely moving their bows. In time, this gave way to a massive crescendo ("Sunrise") that threatened to break the windows.

And so it went throughout the misnamed symphony. Each of the 22 episodes came into being, offered its specific sonic image ("At the Waterfall," "On Flowering Meadows," "On the Glacier"), then either faded out or butted heads with the next. Within the episodes, the sound was often shimmering, iridescent and luminous, the spectacular result of Strauss's finely crafted orchestration.

Inevitably, the climax came toward the end, with a thoroughly convincing "Thunderstorm and Tempest." Everyone on stage played at top volume, and the percussionist manning the wind machine nearly tore his arm out of its socket while winding the contraption around and around. This prodigious display of force gradually morphed into a truly magical section beginning with the organ invoking the blessed silence of a church, followed by magisterial and gradually waning tones from the rest of the mighty ensemble. At the end, Bychkov held his hands aloft for a long moment before summoning the thunderous applause.