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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
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.