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Opera
'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019
In most of the Mendocino Music Festivalís 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...
Recital
PUNGENT WALTZES AND VIRTUOSITY IN LADEUR'S SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
San Francisco based pianist Jeffrey LaDeur has become one of the most sought-after North Bay virtuosi, and cemented that reputation July 17 in a short but eclectic recital in Santa Rosaís Spring Lake Village Chamber Music Series. Before 140 in the Villageís auditorium Mr. LaDeur began with Schubert...
Choral and Vocal
NOBLE BRAHMS REQUIEM PERFORMANCE CLOSES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, June 01, 2019
Sonoma Bach, conducted by Robert Worth, presented a truly grand finale to their 2018-19 "Light Out of Darkness" season in two sold out Schroeder Hall performances June 1 and 2. The program "A Human Requiem" was received rapturously with a well-deserved standing ovation for the main work, Brahms' ...
Chamber
THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosaís Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
Symphony
ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019
An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovichís name on an orchestra program, but thatís exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sundayís Santa Rosa Symphony c...
Symphony
MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON CLOSES WITH AUTUMNAL ELGAR AND THEATRICAL BEETHOVEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Mozartís enchanting Overture to his opera The Magic Flute, a miniature tapestry of gems from the 1791 work, opened the Marin Symphonyís final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Under conductor Alasdair Neale, the playing of the sprightly seven-minute piece by a reduced-size classical ensemble sparkled...
Recital
SHAHAM-EGUCHI DUO'S EXCITING MUSICAL GENEROSITY IN WEILL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, April 26, 2019
Violinist Gil Shaham may be the most modest virtuoso on the concert stage today, and it is the great music he most wishes to put forward, never himself. Generosity, a quality he is known for, was abundantly clear in Weill Hall April 26 when he performed, with pianist Akira Eguchi, a generous program...
Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint SaŽns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestraís new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasserís Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, February 16, 2014
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Philippe Bianconi, piano

Pianist Philippe Bianconi

VIKING INVASION

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weill Hall at Sonoma State University was fuller than usual for the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16. One reason may have been the glorious weather, as evidenced by the sun streaming through the hall's clerestory windows. Another may have been the "Sons of the Fjord" program, which featured the enduringly popular Grieg piano concerto and the titanic Sibelius Symphony No. 2.

A third and more definitive reason appeared at the beginning of the show, when the announcer asked a visiting delegation from the Sons of Norway to stand, prompting several dozen people to rise, many of whom appeared to be daughters. As if that weren't enough audience padding, small groups of wind musicians began populating the encircling balconies, leaving only their string cousins and assorted percussion on stage.

The occasion for this musical diaspora was the American premiere of the opening piece, contemporary Norwegian composer Orjan Matre's "Resurgence for Orchestra." Like many modern works, "Resurgence" dwells on the spatial aspect of sound rather than its temporal elements. The piece begins quietly with the strings and percussion on stage, then migrates to a brass band hidden in the wings, and finally to the woodwinds in the balconies.

The effect of all this separation is waves of sound originating at different points and traveling by different paths before reaching the listener's ears. The sounds are resolutely tonal, with an emphasis on minor thirds and a steady beat. In essence, "Resurgence" boils down to a series of chords that differ both harmonically and spatially. The audience responded warmly, beckoning conductor Bruno Ferrandis back for a curtain call, a rare event for a concert opener from the 21st century.

The necessary stage reshuffling for the Grieg piano concerto was punctuated by the descent of sound-absorbing blinds across most of the clerestory windows. The blinds are a key element of Weill Hall's high-tech acoustics, which allow the space to be adjusted for each ensemble, from fully reflective to partially absorbed.

In the case of pianist Philippe Bianconi, the partial absorption made the individual notes more distinct, but not at the expense of a grippingly resonant sound. Under his fingers, the Grieg concerto's famous opening chords rang out, immediately drawing the audience into the hyper-Romantic, 19th century work. Bianconi sat ramrod-straight on the bench, but his arms, wrists and fingers were a model of flexibility and fluidity. He had a crisp, feathery touch, and he lifted his arms frequently in the air.

The performance by both orchestra and soloist was fully engaged, reaching a climax in the opening movement's dreamy cadenza, where Bianconi gracefully elicited the central theme from a thicket of sixteenth notes. The engagement continued in the serene second movement, marked by a beautiful French horn solo. Then came the lively third, where neither Bianconi nor the orchestra seemed daunted by the hurtling speed. In the end, the players generated a huge sound, leading to an immediate standing ovation.

After a sun-drenched intermission, the audience returned for a new century--the 20th--and for a work that continues to sound modern, the Sibelius Symphony No. 2. Sibelius has worn well over the past 100 years, perhaps because he doesn't succumb to predictable outcomes or obvious patterns. His orchestration is distinctive and his structures are continually surprising.

These aspects were on full display in the opening movement, with its assertive opening triplets and its continually building expectations, as figures were handed off from one section of the orchestra to the next. The tension increased along with the sonic density, as one motive bounced off the other, never resolving into a clear path. The resulting music was more like a train of thought than a reassuring narrative.

This introspective quality continued through the ensuing movements, each one displaying a different aspect of Sibelius's mind at work, from the "Tempo andante ma rubato" of the second, to the "Vivacissimo" of the third, to the rollicking Allegro of the conclusion. The playing throughout was exemplary, but inevitably a few moments stood out, including the opening pizzicatos in the second movement, the evocative bassoon solos, and the trumpet's occasional clarion calls.

Ferrandis did a great job of propelling the orchestra through Sibelius's unpredictable psychodrama. They were by turns somber and funereal, then furiously active, nowhere more so than in the agitated beginning of the third movement. Like Sibelius, the orchestra never said the same thing twice. Each moment was distinctive, leading to a shattering climax at the end, with the brass ringing out at top volume.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice