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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...
CHORAL AND VOCAL REVIEW
American Bach Soloists / Saturday, December 14, 2013
American Bach Soloists Choir, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor. Shawnette Sulker, soprano; John Thiessen, trumpet

Jeffrey Thomas and the ABS Chorus Dec. 14 in Belvedere

A MARIN MUSICAL FEAST IN ABS SILVER ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 14, 2013

It was a “coming home for Christmas” event Dec. 14 when the American Bach Soloists (ABS) launched their 25th season with a glorious concert in Belvedere’s St. Stephens Church. The ABS was founded in 1989 in this venue, and chose the fortress-like church for presenting two Bach cantatas and a bevy of holiday music by seven composers.

Beginning with the fifth segment (“Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen”) of the massive six-part Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, the ABS partnered this 11-section cantata in the first half with the popular cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!” (BWV 51). Both received sterling performances in a church where the reverberation time is short. The broad acoustics were further diminished by a packed audience of 300 in heavy winter garb.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas’s control of the complicated counterpoint was masterful throughout the evening, albeit with a minimum of overt gestures and only a sporadic and elegant use of his left arm to shape a desired sweeping melodic phrase. A small organ amid the instrumentalists, played by Corey Jamason, provided continuo and was often in ensemble with cellist William Skeen, oboist John Abberger and lead violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock. Mr. Skeen played with considerable volume and deft phrasing, especially in a lovely trio in the Choral (4th part) with countertenor Eric Jurenas and tenor Aaron Sheehan. In a following section Ms. Blumenstock’s extended opening solo blended with the added organ part, with chaste subsequent entrances by the cello, bassist Steven Lehning and three singers.

The 28-member chorus sang radiantly with only a rare ragged cutoff. It was an exemplary performance promising more delicious Bach to come.

In the second cantata, soprano Shawnette Sulker and Baroque trumpeter John Thiessen were the soloists in the short but virtuosic work from 1730, with a reduced orchestra. Ms. Sulker mastered the high tessitura and florid scales, though her lower register and diction tended to be indistinct, at least from my corner seat seven rows back. But why look for spots in the sun? The vocal pyrotechnics were thrilling, as were Mr. Thiessen’s shorter but equally demanding brass solos. The Baroque trumpet is not as piercing or loud as a modern valved trumpet, but in many ways the sound blended perfectly. Ms. Sulker’s stamina was tested in the third section aria where in a long passage, sung in one breath, her voice soared over the organ and the statuesque Mr. Thomas, the latter standing majestically with hands at his sides.

ABS concerts cater generously to loyal supporters, exemplified this evening by a lavish program booklet and an extended intermission reception with ample gratis holiday food and beverages.

The well-fed audience returned to the sanctuary for a veritable feast of music that was Christmas in theme but also joyously contemporary, save for the iconic "Silent Night." Franz Gruber’s 1818 carol was performed with a slow tempo and arresting major-minor harmonies, augmented by intriguing and matched solo singing from Ms. Sulker and Mr. Sheehan.

The entirely choral second part contained richly-hued singing of Rutter’s “Musica Dei Donum” and “Come Down, O Love divine”; three carol anthems from Herbert Howells; Britten’s “A Boy was Born”; David Willcocks’ arrangement of “Infant holy, infant lowly”; two Vaughan Williams works (“The blessed son of God” and “No sad thought his soul affright”); Whitacre’s “Alleluia” and the aforementioned Peter Conte arrangement of "Silent Night."

Highlights of the final works were Joshua Romatowski’s commanding and plaintive flute solo in the Rutter "Dei donum" (reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ "Lark Ascending"); chorus soprano Tonia D’Amelio's solos in the second Rutter work; and the often powerful group singing of the concluding Whitacre work. In the last the false cadences and precision part singing had a mesmerizing effect on the audience, eliciting a roaring standing ovation and a surprising choral encore, a reprise of "Silent Night."

As a Christmas gift to Marin, the ABS could not have done better in this impeccable silver anniversary concert.