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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...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
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