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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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
American Philharmonic, Sonoma County / Sunday, October 12, 2008
Gabriel Sakakeeny

Gabriel Sakakeeny

A DECADE AND COUNTING

by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An old business axiom has it that “ten years means a career,” and with the American Philharmonic Sonoma County making that anniversary, the tenth’s season first concerts October 11 and 12 brought more than the usual anticipation. This orchestra, which began in Cotati, has overcome manifold hurdles to become a formidable musical force in the North Bay.

A season-launching concert should open with something special, and Stephen Main’s “Overture for a New America” had a decidedly populist, perhaps even political tone. One of three world premieres to be played by the American Philharmonic this season, the Overture recalls a bucolic Vaughan-Williams, Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” and film scores such as Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings.” In three sections, the lush score portrays heroic aspects of the American national character with splendid writing for the brass and several full-orchestra climaxes. A fugue caps the third section, albeit breaking off too quickly, with the returning martial character winning out. It’s a substantial work with rich tonal colors, and it was elegantly played by the orchestra. The audience, filling perhaps half of the Wells Fargo Center’s 1,500 seats, loved it, and Main was introduced by conductor Gabriel Sakakeeny to additional acclaim.

Grieg’s A Minor Piano Concerto completed the first half, capably played by Rohnert Park resident Lauren Xie in her second appearance with the American Philharmonic. An early Grieg work, from 1868, the dramatic and melodic concerto preceded the other popular piano concertos of the time (Rubinstein D Minor, Tchaikovsky B-Flat, Brahms’s D Minor and B-Flat, Henselt’s F Minor) and has never lost hold of a wide public. Its soaring themes and perfect integration of the solo instrument and orchestra are models of the genre. In the first movement Xie chose to underplay the massive choral parts, playing cleanly and never rushing tempos. Her performance was certainly lyrical but lacked heft and excitement. The big trill entering the coda was bright, and finally she mounted a real forte in the coda.

Her best playing came in the Adagio in D Flat, despite orchestra pitch problems in the introduction. Here Xie’s thoughtful and tender interpretation was winning, her touch deft and shading subtle. Xie tends to ignore some interesting bass lines heard in performances of other pianists, but the nostalgic music, and the lovely accompaniment from the orchestra, made the movement memorable. A highlight of the afternoon.

The finale, beginning in A Minor and ending in A Major, was held in strict control by Sakakeeny’s precise baton, and the playing of the timpanist (unidentified in the program) was excellent. Xie was again best in lyrical parts, where the treble sustain in the piano carried well, and less convincing in fast pedaled runs where her scales lacked clarity. A standing ovation and four sets of flowers for the soloist followed the volcanic ending. Prior to the second half, Sakakeeny presented Xie with the Orchestra’s Young Artist Award, an annual gift and tribute to young musicians in the North Bay area.

A youthful and still amazing First Symphony in F Minor (1925) from Shostakovich closed the concert. In four movements, it must rank with Mahler’s as one of the best “first” symphonies ever written, and it has all the characteristics of the mature composer’s additional 14 works in the genre: brilliant orchestration, acerbic wit, blatant but proper theme-borrowing, and immense emotional impact. It has everywhere the distinctive Shostakovich voice, mixed in with climaxes recalling countrymen Scriabin and Tchaikovsky.

Tom Hyde’s solo trumpet playing throughout was exemplary. The grotesquerie of the Scherzo and the introversion of the slow movement (Lento) were fluently performed, with Steve Bergman (clarinet) Chris Crive (oboe) and Miranda Kincaid (bassoon) as standout soloists. But this is a symphony of solo parts, at times with even a bit of Wagner in the long fourth-movement introduction, and in that pesky Scherzo, which I suspect this orchestra could not have effectively tackled five years ago. Sakakeeny seems to keep setting the bar higher, with more demanding works that require large forces and presumably much rehearsal time, and the preparation was palpable in a masterful interpretation. The prevailing feeling of sadness was finally relieved by the massive ending statement from the horns.

Perhaps this performance indicates that a Shostakovich symphony could be on at least one American Philharmonic program each year? The Fourth may be still be out of reach, but this wonderful orchestra, playing last year the Rite of Spring and the Poem of Ecstasy, could probably do it.