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Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 8, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir. Jenni Samuleson, soprano: Christine Brandes, mezzo-soprano; Brian Thorsett,tenor;
Philip Skinner, bass-baritone

Soprano Christine Brandes

OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 8, 2013

Way back in 1995, when Jeffrey Kahane was just beginning to conduct the Santa Rosa Symphony, the local music critic incurred Kahane's wrath by writing an unfavorable review of a concert that included music by Leonard Bernstein. In essence, the critic opined that Bernstein was merely a show-biz composer, undeserving of serious recognition. Kahane retaliated by preceding subsequent concerts with a stern lecture to the audience extolling Bernstein's virtues and explaining why he should be taken seriously.

Be all that as it may, the Symphony--now conducted by Bruno Ferrandis--has programmed precious little Bernstein since then, so the inclusion of the composer's "Jeremiah" Symphony for its Dec. 8 concert at Weill Hall came as something of a surprise. This unfamiliar work, first performed in 1944, is one of Bernstein's earliest, but it contains many characteristic elements, instantly recognizable to anyone who's heard "West Side Story" or "On the Waterfront." Indeed, the first two movements of the symphony could easily serve as a film score--this time to a biblical epic.

All the Hollywood tropes are there: the brass fanfare, the emphatic drumbeat, the surging strings. In the first movement, you can almost see the prophet Jeremiah staggering across a back-lot desert. In the second, he stumbles into a profane dance party where bodies twirl to an insistent jagged rhythm and an oft-repeated six-note phrase. It's all well orchestrated, but the music has little import--until a mezzo-soprano walks onstage and opens the third movement with a heartfelt lament.

The singer in this case was Bay Area favorite Christine Brandes, who instantly injected some gravitas into the proceedings, courtesy of Bernstein's score. The third and final movement of the symphony was originally conceived as a stand-alone piece for soprano and orchestra, and it could easily resume that state. The difference between the first two movements and the third is night and day: Hollywood soundtrack vs. serious music.

Brandes was nothing if not serious. Wearing a black shawl and an elegant black-and-gold gown, she sang each note to its full value, with well-controlled vibrato. She was particularly riveting in her lower range, filling the hall with opulent sound. Her dramatics were also convincing, save for the few times she glanced at her score; she would have been better served by memorizing it. That quibble aside, it was a memorable performance, much appreciated by the nearly full house.

Less appreciated was the opening work, Leopold Mozart's frivolous "Toy Symphony," featuring five local non-musical celebrity soloists aided by Symphony trumpeter Doug Morton and soprano Dianna Richardson, a member of the Symphony's honor choir. The celebrities played toy instruments--including a bird whistle, a noisemaker and a wind machine--over a thin bed of sound from a much-reduced orchestra. While it was tolerably amusing to see the mayor of Santa Rosa wearing a Santa Claus hat and pounding on a toy drum, the comic effect wore off quickly. The highlight, such as it was, came from Richardson, who sang well.

Good singing was abundant in the second half, devoted to Haydn's "Mass in Time of War." Here Brandes was joined by soprano Jennie Samuelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, bass Philip Skinner, and the hundred or so voices of the Symphony's Honor Choir, directed by Robert Worth. The choir dominated the mass, both musically and spatially, looming above the orchestra in the Hall's distinctive Choral Circle. That position above the main stage allows the choir much better projection than when they're relegated to risers behind the orchestra.

The choir asserted its dominance in the opening Kyrie, clearly articulating the words and ringing out above the orchestra. Samuelson's opening solo was a bit fuzzy around the edges, but Brandes was crystal clear. The Kyrie is unusually sprightly, leading into a lilting Gloria. Here the choir kept pace with Ferrandis's brisk tempo, which didn't slow until the bass solo at "Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi" (son of the Father, who takest away the sins of the world). Ably accompanied by cellist Robin Bonnell, Skinner unleashed a window-rattling sound, fully embodying the plaintive text.

The subsequent Credo continued, and even elevated, the energy of the Gloria. Ferrandis was a model of exactitude as he cued each choral entry in the opening fugue and exhorted the under-represented tenors to sing louder. The low organ note after "et sepultus est" (and was buried) was wonderfully dramatic, leading into a superb "Et resurrexit tertia die" (and the third day he rose again) from the chorus.

The tenor gets only a brief solo in the Sanctus, but Thorsett made the most of it, displaying a pure tone and remarkable power. He joined with the other soloists for the high point of Haydn's mass--the remarkable Benedictus quartet. Here the word "benedictus" is carried from one soloist to the next, who interact like members of a string quartet. All the voices were good, but Thorsett really stood out.

The concluding Agnus Dei, with its famous drum roll, was almost a match for the Benedictus. The chorus sang beautifully, and the final "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace) was uplifting, a wonderful ending to an inspired performance.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.