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Recital
PERLMAN TRIUMPHS IN LOW TEMPERATURE SOLD OUT WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Itzhak Perlman did a rare thing for a classical musician in his Sept. 15 recital – he sold out Weill Hall’s 1,400 seats, with 50 more on stage. Clearly the violinist has an adoring local audience that came to hear him perform with pianist Rohan De Silva in a concert of two substantial sonatas mixed...
Recital
TRANSCRIPTIONS ABOUND IN GALBRAITH'S GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Master guitarist Paul Galbraith’s artistry was much in evidence Sept. 14 in his Sebastopol Community Church recital. Attendees in the Redwood Arts Council events were initially bothered by the afternoon’s heat in the church, but it was of small importance when the Cambridge, England-based artist be...
Recital
ECLECTIC DRAMATIC PROGRAMING IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Marin-based pianist Laura Magnani combined piquant remarks to an audience of 100 Sept. 11 with dramatic music making in a recital at Spring Lake Village’s Montgomery Center. Ms. Magnani’s eclectic programming in past SLV recitals continued, beginning with three sonatas by her Italian compatriot Sca...
Chamber
PERFORMER AS PROMOTER: CLARA SCHUMANN AND MUSICAL SALONS CLOSE VOM FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The July 28 closing performance of the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival could have been subtitled "Friends", as it was devoted to works by both Clara and Robert Schumann, and those of their friends and protégés Brahms and virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom Clara toured extensively...
Chamber
ROMANTIC CHAMBER WORKS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Now in its 5th season the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented July 27 a concert titled “My Brilliant Sister,” featuring Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s compositions for combinations of voice, fortepiano and strings. Fanny and her brother Felix were close, and Felix occasionally published ...
Symphony
ROMANTIC DREAMS AT THE MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kayleen Asbo
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Romanticism, contrary to many popular perceptions, wasn’t simply about diving into the habitat of the heart. Romanticism began as a literary movement that elevated the power of nature as a transcendent force and sought with keen nostalgia to rediscover the wisdom of the past. The Romantics in both l...
Chamber
CHAUSSON CONCERTO SHINES IN A VISIONARY'S SALON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Ernest Chausson’s four-movement Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1891) is neither concerto nor sonata nor symphony, but it somehow manages to be all three, especially when played with fire and conviction by an accomplished soloist. Those incendiary and emotional elements w...
Chamber
EUROPEAN SALON MUSIC CAPTIVATES AT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Two stunning programs of 19th and 20th century chamber music were presented on July 21 and 28 as part of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival at the Hanna Center in Sonoma. Festival founders and directors pianist Eric Zivian and cellist Tanya Tompkins were both on hand to contribute brilliantly at ...
Chamber
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL COMBINATIONS IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 20, 2019
A Lovely summer afternoon in Sonoma Valley, an excellent small concert hall, enthusiastic audience, exciting musicians and creative programming with interesting story lines. All these were combined July 20 at a Valley of the Moon Festival concert titled “An Italian in Paris.” This is the fifth seaso...
Opera
'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019
In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it wa...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, January 11, 2014
Enrique Arturo Diemecke, conductor. Wu Man, pipa

Pipa Virtuoso Wu Man

PIPA PASSES, WITH FLYING COLORS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2014

A typical symphony concert features a visiting soloist who plays a concerto by a well-known composer. For its Jan. 11-13 concert set at the Green Music Center, the Santa Rosa Symphony augmented that tradition by offering not only a visiting soloist, but also a visiting conductor, an exotic instrument and a concerto by a relatively unknown contemporary composer. The soloist was Wu Man, the conductor was Enrique Diemecke, the instrument was a Chinese pipa, and the concerto was by Zhao Jiping, a Chinese composer born in 1945 and mostly known for his film music, including "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Farewell My Concubine."

The pipa is one of many variants on the guitar or mandolin. It has four strings, like a mandolin, but it is held in the lap, like a guitar, except that it's held upright, like a double bass. Pipa players cradle their instruments like Renaissance madonnas, the child standing upright in their laps, wrapped in their warm embrace.

Wu Man was the picture of serenity as she seated herself in front of the orchestra in a knee-length green dress and settled the pipa into her arms. Before her stood the music on a stand, along with a microphone that discretely amplified her instrument. Behind her to her left, guest conductor Diemecke--maestro of the Bogota, Buenos Aires, Long Beach and Flint symphonies--summoned the orchestra to begin playing Zhao's concerto in its American premiere.

In two words, the concerto is movie music--but for a great, memorable epic. It has a clear, circular structure, with distinct sections, each evoking a particular narrative. The opening section, for example, is slow and serene, like floating down a lazy river. Wu played the stately theme with great expressivity, but instead of extending each note with a bow, as a violinist would, she let them ring out with rapid plucking from the fingers on her right hand.

Like the mandolin, the pipa depends on repetitive plucking to sustain notes, but the task falls to the fingers rather than to a pick. Wu's digits were a blur of motion as she bent each note to her will, creating a haunting sound that carried over the entire orchestra. The tonal quality was in marked contrast to the bowed cellos, who intoned the main theme.

The majestic opening gradually transitioned to a faster section, where Wu extended her virtuosity to her left hand, running up and down the fingerboard like an overcaffeinated rabbit. Despite its rapidity, the sound she produced was exquisite, every note clearly audible. She then engaged in a wonderful duet with principal cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns.

And so it went as the concerto circled around to its opening theme, the pipa at the center of attention, the orchestra providing lush accompaniment, the audience entranced. The standing ovation at the end was immediate and sustained.

The other works on the program somewhat paled in comparison to the excitement of a premiere and an exotic instrument--but not by much. The opener was an early Mozart symphony (No. 15), and the closer was Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (No. 6), the latter as programmatic in its way as the Zhao concerto.

The Mozart work, written when he was 15 or 16, is a model of clarity, each movement distinct and full of ideas. Diemecke established his presence before the opening, shaking the hands of the front row of strings and then gesturing to the audience with a dramatic sweep. Working without a baton or score, he elicited a precise and well-controlled sound from the orchestra, with his slightest gestures bringing big results. The ritards at the ends of phrases in the opening movement, for example, were both disciplined and evocative.

The somewhat reduced orchestra produced a balanced sound, with a particularly resonant bass. Only occasional ragged entries from the horns detracted from the effect. The playing throughout was luxurious, elegant and upbeat, especially in the final movement, which found Diemecke dancing on the podium and leaping off with the energy of someone several decades younger.

That youthful enthusiasm carried over into the Beethoven symphony, a work significantly longer than the Mozart but embodying much of the same spirit. Again without baton or score, Diemecke launched into the symphony with complete assurance, swaying from side to side and delivering precise cues for each new entry.

For listeners of a certain generation, the Pastoral Symphony is forever linked to Walt Disney's "Fantasia," which transmogrified Beethoven's original country idyll into Greek myth. Diemecke mostly shunned the mythic, settling for a more languid rural pace. At times his tempos seemed to drag, as he tried to milk Beethoven's stately themes to maximum effect. At other points, particularly during the peasant dance and thunderstorm sequences, he propelled the orchestra as fast as it could go.

The overall effect was magical, no matter what story unfolded in the audience's imagination. The playing from the orchestra was superb, notably in the many brass and woodwind solos, and both listeners and musicians seemed fully engaged. A hushed phrase near the end of the final movement captured the spirit of the performance. Diemecke held the orchestra back, creating palpable tension, and then released it for the final, life-affirming bars.