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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...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
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.