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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
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...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
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.