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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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.