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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
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