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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital itís easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handelís seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if itís the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcellís Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the schoolís Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossiniís ďWilliam TellĒ overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonicís Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

BE EMBRACED, YOU MILLIONS

by Steve Osborn
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mere prose is inadequate to describe how good the Vienna Philharmonic was at Weill Hall on March 11, but perhaps a waltz title will do the job. How about "Seid umschlungen, Millionen" (Be embraced, you millions)? That was the Johann Strauss encore the orchestra played after their superlative guest conductor, Andris Nelsons, was repeatedly called back to the stage at concert's end.

"Be embraced" was the theme throughout the evening, from the opening bars of Haydn's 90th symphony, through Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," into more Brahms--the Symphony No. 3--and culminating in the Strauss waltz, which was actually dedicated to Brahms. Instead of millions, there were only 1,400 patrons in the packed hall, but the millions--billions?--must include all the other patrons who have heard the Vienna Phil over its storied history, a history that continues to be shaped by conductors such as Nelsons and by legions of superb musicians.

The applause started even before the concert began, when a select portion of the Vienna Phil, including a few female violinists and cellists, strode onstage. Old chauvinist traditions die hard, but Vienna is making progress. They had barely settled in when Nelsons walked on as well, clad only in black, without the traditional jacket.

Holding a baton in his right hand, Nelsons grasped the rail at the back of the conductor's podium like a ballerina and then proceeded to mimic a ballerina throughout the evening. Nelsons is a conductor for whom no motion is out of bounds, whether pointing skyward like a celebrant or twirling like a top. His hands and feet are in constant movement, and his baton passes from right to left incessantly. At times, he launches forward into each section of the orchestra, hovering over them like a hawk. He seems to have a different conducting method for every musical passage he encounters.

The first such encounter was the opening Allegro of the Haydn, played impeccably and vivaciously. One often hears Haydn's late "London" symphonies, including the famous "Surprise," but the slightly earlier Parisian counterparts, including No. 90, are just as beguiling. The invention is delightful, the color abundant and the spirit uplifting.

The subsequent Andante settled into a blissful repose marked by a terrific flute solo that found Nelsons conducting with his fingers. For the ensuing Minuet, he stood on his left foot, the better to coax an astounding range of dynamics out of his bewitched subjects. The sprightly Finale wrapped it all up with strong accents, a complete unanimity of sound, and a furious pace leading to ultimate serenity.

More Haydn was in store for the next piece, first literally, and then as fodder for the fertile imagination of Brahms. The "Variations on a Theme by Haydn" was the breakthrough that allowed Brahms to compose his own four symphonies. You can almost hear him discovering his mature style as he mines the rich veins of the first symphonic master.

The opening theme, from Haydn's "Chorale St. Antoni," was stately and well controlled. Nelsons emulated the stately aspect through stricter use of his baton, but by the first variation, he was back to his old tricks, switching the baton from left to right and prancing upon the podium like a man possessed. The eight variations were as different from one another as a polyglot menagerie, ranging from the liquescent (No. 3), to the mysterious (No. 4), to the festive (No. 6). The sound throughout was incredibly rich and impeccably balanced. The brass never overwhelmed the strings, and the woodwinds shone through like sunbeams.

In the second half, given over to the Brahms Symphony No. 3, Nelsons assumed the role of an underwater swimmer, shaping the orchestra's aqueous sound through fluid motions unchallenged by gravity. The pace in the opening Allegro was luxurious, but underlain with a tense expectancy. The players repeatedly turned on a dime, unleashing explosive energy and then floating as if on a cloud.

In the Andante, Nelsons put a finger on his ear as if checking for intonation, but everything seemed perfect. The players once again demonstrated that mastery is not just how loud an orchestra plays, but also how softly. The quiet passages were at the edge of hearing.

The famous cello theme that opens the third movement passed seamlessly around the orchestra, culminating in an evocative horn solo. In the Finale, the subdued opening gave way to a full release of the potential energy that had been gathering all evening. A flurry of down bows from the violins ushered in a thrilling, almost demonic, ride to the muted end, where Nelsons waved his hand in the air in a kind of sad farewell to a magical evening. He was a joy to watch, and his musicians a joy to hear.